21:33 27 February 2017
FOCUS: Okinawa families seeking justice for wrongful deaths in Taiwan's 1947 massacre
By Ko Shu-ling
TAIPEI, Feb. 27, Kyodo
On Tuesday, Taiwan will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the so-called "228 Incident," a brutal military crackdown by Nationalist Party (KMT) troops on civilian protestors in Taipei that initiated what historians now call the "White Terror Era."
For decades, the 1947 massacre remained a forbidden subject under the authoritarian rule of former KMT dictators Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo.
The actual number of victims is unclear, but historians estimate that at least 20,000 people were killed on the day of the incident and the military crackdown that followed in many places of the island.
Since martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwan's government has made efforts to break the political taboo against discussing the incident, designating Feb. 28 as a national holiday, building a commemorative museum, offering official apologies and setting up a foundation to compensate the families of those who were lost.
Since the 228 Memorial Foundation's establishment in 1995, it has approved over 1,400 claims and disbursed NT$7.2 billion (about $234 million) in compensation.
While most victims were Taiwanese, Koreans and Japanese who remained in Taiwan after World War II were also sometimes targeted as KMT troops rampaged throughout the country.
The number of foreign deaths has been even harder to determine. But of 300 Japanese fishermen residing in one northern Taiwanese town, 30 are known to have perished.
Last year, after five months of deliberation, a Taipei court issued a ruling that foreigners killed in the 228 Incident could also apply for national compensation.
Among the first cases to be decided involves Esaki Aoyama from Okinawa Prefecture.
According to government records citing the account of Aoyama's since-deceased cousin who was also in Taiwan at the time, Aoyama was working on a Taiwanese boat transporting goods between Taiwan and Okinawa in the turbulent period after former colonial ruler Japan's departure from Taiwan in 1945.
In March 1947, his boat was stopped by KMT troops brought in from China to help with the crackdown.
What happened to him remains a mystery. The cousin, Sakizawa Aoyama, speculated that Aoyama might have been sent to the mountains with others where they were executed, or he might have been bound with barbed wire and pushed into the sea, which is how many met their death.
Sakizawa, who was then a fisherman living on Sheliao (now Heping) Island in Keelung, northern Taiwan, was arrested and very nearly shared the fate of his cousin, but for unexplained reasons he was released.
Such was the often arbitrary nature of the purge of dissidents that began on Feb. 28, 1947.
The efforts of the Aoyama family to seek redress for his wrongful death paid off in February last year when the Taipei High Administrative Court ordered the 228 Memorial Foundation to pay them NT$6 million in compensation, the first awarded foreign claimants.
Because no official records were kept of such executions and Aoyama's body was never found, his family had to provide proof of his loss -- not an easy task after so many years.
Key to this, it turned out, was a declaration issued by an Okinawan court confirming that the 38-year-old disappeared at the time stated, said Liu Chao-yuan, deputy executive director of the 228 Memorial Foundation, who handled Aoyama's case.
Despite these difficulties, two other Japanese families have applied for reparation and their cases are pending.
According to the families of Minoru Nakatake and Kane Ishisoko, the two men traveled to Keelung in March 1947 to purchase spare parts for a fishing boat when they were apprehended and killed by KMT troops.
Once again, such cases depend on whether or not families can produce evidence to substantiate their claims, said Yang Chen-long, the foundation's chief executive officer.
If the evidence is sufficient, the foundation will issue an official statement acknowledging the loss, together with financial compensation, Yang said.
On Monday, Aoyama's eldest son Keisho arrived in Taipei leading a group of victims' families, including those of Nakatake and Ishisoko, to attend Tuesday's memorial ceremony organized by the foundation and 228 Memorial Museum.
Keisho, who was about 3 years old when his father disappeared, has traveled to Taiwan on several occasions since filing the claim in 2011 to call attention to the case and arrange necessary legal representation.
Commenting on the success of the case after so many years, Keisho said Monday that he was pleased with the outcome and satisfied with the financial settlement provided by the Taiwanese government, which he said was enough to cover the costs he incurred.
But money seems not to have been his motive, a point made by all the families present who emphasized the peace they sought for themselves and their ancestors.
Keisho spoke in particular of his father, who lost his life in 1947, and his mother, who died in 2010 never knowing what happened to her husband. Both, he said, are now at rest.
No one knows how many more victims' families will come forward. Yet Taiwan's government has made it clear that it wishes to reconcile Taiwanese and foreigners alike to the dark period in the island's past.