An ill-advised proposal
On the morning of July 24, the Office of the Vice President, Human Right Committee, held a lengthy meeting on the subject of the human rights of foreigners in Taiwan. This had resulted from my persistent protests against apparent attempts by the police in March and April to intimidate foreigners who had demonstrated against the US invasion of Iraq. Also present at the meeting were representatives of several groups concerned with foreign workers; these had faced much worse police pressure after a small demonstration demanding better wages. Many present felt that Taiwan's poor treatment of foreign labor was an impediment to its international relations.
Predictably, representatives of the National Police Administration denied that anyone had been mistreated or refused entrance to Taiwan due to their political behavior.
Then Toru Sakai, who works now in foreign affairs at the DPP's headquarters, described how he was blocked from entering the country for several months in early 2001 after having been designated "a threat to national security" by the exit/entrance authorities. He said that there is an obvious gap between presidential direction and the execution of policy; at the bottom. It seems the old regime is still in control.
This was not a pretty picture. However, I thought that the airing of these matters would be an important step in setting Taiwan on the road to becoming "a nation of human rights," a goal proclaimed by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Imagine, then, my shock that evening at reading in the Taipei Times that foreigners and Chinese or organizations will be banned from conducting lobbying activities concerning national defense, diplomacy and Chinese affairs if a draft bill approved by the Executive Yuan last Wednesday becomes law ("Cabinet approves draft lobbying law," July 24, page 1).
"Lobby" is defined as an activity meant to sway the formation, approval, change or abrogation of government policies, resolutions or legislations. The activity could be carried out in the form of speaking, writing or e-mail. Therefore, my current efforts to expose the basic violation of human rights in the immigration law, plus its misuse by the police, would be proscribed by the proposed law.
I was relieved to see, the Times has stated some mild reservations about these provisions in its editorial last Friday ("Another stab at political reform," July 25, page 8). But observers should rather be aghast that the Executive Yuan itself did not perceive the obvious contradictions with civil and human rights, as follows.
National defense, diplomacy and Chinese affairs all commonly involve foreigners as commentators, researchers and also as persons affected. The right of foreigners to speak is the right of Taiwanese to know. And both Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese fall within the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
If the proposed law is as described, it is nothing short of a gag order, a squelching of all but the most constricted channels of communication. It is comparable to controls in the martial law period.
There are many reasons why any such law, even in an innocuous form, should not be enacted. The laws, police and courts have not yet fully embraced the concepts and practices of civil and human rights, nor have enough civil groups formed to protect those rights.