Monday, June 12, 2006


Hundreds of Taiwanese took to the streets of the capital on Sunday to protest against the demolition of a leper sanitarium that is due to be torn down to make way for a subway extension. Hundreds of aging leprosy patients have refused to be relocated from the sanitarium in Taipei county where the Japanese isolated them during their colonial rule of the island more than half a century ago.

The following article is taken from Taipei Times.

Rights activists angered by plight of Happy Life lepers
NOT HAPPY: Hundreds of activists protested against authorities' failure to conduct a proper review of the historical value of a leprosarium slated for demolition

Outraged that the Taipei County Government had failed to conduct a review about whether or not to designate the Happy Life Leprosy Sanatorium a historical site by a required deadline, about 50 rights groups yesterday petitioned the authority and the public for the facility to be preserved.

"[We] want human rights! [We are] against forced removal!" yelled more than 500 activists from the Youth Leseng League and other groups in front of the Council for Cultural Affairs, the headquarters of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Presidential Office one day before the council's deadline for the heritage evaluation of Happy Life.

The groups demanded that the government and the Taipei Rapid Transit Coporation (TRTC) respect the rights of Happy Life's lepers to remain in a facility in which they have lived for several decades.

The Youth Leseng League said the Taipei County Government had not held any review committee meetings to determine the historical and cultural value of Happy Life, as it was required to do after the council identified the home as a "temporary historical site" six months ago.

Guan Wu-yuan (管婺媛), a spokesperson for the demonstrating groups, said the TRTC had proposed demolishing 60 percent to 70 percent of Happy Life's buildings last month.

Guan added that the Executive Yuan had ruled in the TRTC's favor on May 15, despite the fact that the official review process had not been completed.

Youth Leseng League chief Chang Hsin-wen (張馨文) said that the most outrageous thing was the government's "perfunctory attitude" in the face of the league's petition.

A 57-year-old patient said that the fight for the preservation of the sanatorium was part of the battle for local culture, and he would continue to drag himself to mass demonstrations for the sake of his home.

Built during the Japanese colonial era, Happy Life is the only public leprosarium in Taiwan.

Located in Sinjhuang Township (新莊) in Taipei County, the leprosarium has housed more than 300 lepers over the years, most of whom were forced to leave their families in their teens and are now in their 60s or 70s.

Patients in the leprosarium used to live a secluded life as a result of the segregation policy put in place by first the Japanese and then the Taiwanese government during the martial law period.

Lepers were denied the rights to move, marry or have offspring. Some of them were even forced into hard labor and to have sterilizations and abortions.

It was not until the 1950s that new medical treatments for the disease became available in Taiwan and leprosy was found to be a curable chronic illness with a low likelihood of transmission.

In 1994, the Taipei County government sold the land on which the sanatorium was built to the TRTC for the construction of part of the Sinjhuang Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. The lepers were not consulted, and did not learn of the sale until 2003, when the demolition of the sanatorium began.

Although sanatorium officials have denied implementing a forced relocation plan last month and said that patients can choose to stay where they are, more than 300 patients may yet be forced to move to the newly built Huilung Community Hospital.

Patients and human-rights groups have campaigned to save the leprosarium since 2004, petitioning official agencies such as the Taipei County Government, the Executive Yuan and the Council for Cultural Affairs.

The council had agreed to review the historical and cultural value of Happy Life, and the demolition of its buildings was halted in accordance with the revised Cultural Heritage Preservation Law (文化資產保存法). The review was scheduled to begin on Dec. 12 last year and was supposed to last six months.

Back in December 2004, the Executive Yuan had invited experts to seek a solution to the conflict between the TRTC and the leprosarium's patients.

Some experts suggested the MRT's power plant and water treatment plant be moved underground, which might allow the co-existence of the sanatorium and the MRT line.

Liu Ke-chiang (劉可強), a professor at the Graduate Institute of Building and Planning at National Taiwan University, said: "The cost [involved in preserving the Happy Life Leprosy Sanatorium] may sound high, but [the leprosarium] is historically worthwhile and ecologically friendly."

Hsia Chu-chiu (夏鑄九), also a professor at the institute, said it should be possible for the location on which Happy Life is built to be "a shared space for modern technology and historical heritage."

However, Taipei City's Department of Rapid Transit Systems estimated that altering the MRT route could cost more than NT$2 billion (US$63 million) and delay the completion of the project by more than three years.

When Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) visited the newly completed Huilung Community Hospital in January last year, she called the MRT construction project a "nationally significant project."

"If such an important project is delayed, the nation will lose a considerable amount of money. Who is going to pay for this?" she added.

As today's deadline for Happy Life's heritage review approached, demonstrators continued to challenge the authorities yesterday, calling for the leprosarium to be recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO, together with similar facilities in Japan and Korea.

The council promised the petitioning groups that it would conduct an investigation into Happy Life's heritage status if the local government failed to do anything about the matter.

The council added that both sides of the argument needed to be considered.

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