Taiwan entertainer faces jail for slapping minister over history row

TAIPEI (AFP) - A retired Taiwanese entertainer could face jail after she slapped a minister to protest against government moves to address the controversial legacy of late leader Chiang Kai-shek, officials said on Thursday (Jan 24).

Ms Cheng Hui-chung, 67, was questioned by prosecutors after she slapped Culture Minister Cheng Li-chiun in the face during an event on Tuesday.

"Prosecutors questioned Cheng to clarify if she obstructed an official in discharge of public duties which is an indictable offence," Ms Chen Chia-hsiu, a spokesman for the Taipei district prosecutor's office, said on Thursday.

The offence is punishable by a maximum jail term of three years.

Ms Cheng, a singer in the 1960s and 70s, said she was motivated by the current government's push to confront the controversial legacy of Chiang, seen by many as symbolic of a brutal military regime which purged thousands of opponents until his death in 1975.

As the island grapples with its authoritarian past, calls are growing for his statues and other relics to be removed from public display. His statues across the island have also been repeatedly targeted by protesters.

But supporters see him as a national hero who deserves to be revered and remembered.

A row is currently raging over the imposing Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall in the heart of Taipei.

It is one of Taiwan's best-known attractions with visitors flocking to see the daily changing of the guard by soldiers who keep vigil over a giant statue of the generalissimo.

Opponents of Chiang's legacy, including relatives of his regime's many victims, want the honour guard pulled and the memorial hall either torn down or Chiang's presence removed - and a government commission is examining various options.

Ms Cheng the elderly entertainer has apologised for assaulting the minister but insisted she stands firm in opposing moves to erase Chiang's legacy.

"My apology doesn't mean the minister is doing the right thing. I urge her not to demolish the Chiang Kai-shek memorial hall," she told reporters.

President Tsai Ing-wen has called for calm over the row while minister Cheng, who was on the receiving end of the slap, said: "Violence is wrong and there is no stance or reason that can be used to justify violence."

Chiang and his nationalist Kuomintang troops fled from the mainland to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to communist forces.

Although Taiwan today is a fully-fledged democracy, it was only in late 2017 that a Bill was passed to tackle the legacy of injustices under Chiang.

It included a call for streets and schools with names commemorating Chiang to be changed and his statues taken down.

The Ministry of Culture announced in 2017 that the memorial hall would stop selling souvenirs depicting Chiang and cease playing a song dedicated to the former ruler, while references to him would be removed from galleries.