Thu, Oct 05, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Freedom of speech has real limits

By Cao Changqing 曹長青

The anti-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) campaign was initiated and has been sustained by tremendous support from the pan-blue camp. It has also been strengthened by supporters motivated by former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh's (施明德) claim that he represents the people. Shih has duped many into backing the protests.

But do the protests really represent the public will? To a certain extent it does, but certainly not a majority.

The legislature, which is popularly elected, has the authority to represent the will of Taiwanese. The president is also directly elected by voters, and therefore is the most direct reflection of the popular will.

A dictatorship seeks to emphasize its "democratic" elements, but in a democracy it is the republican spirit that is important. This spirit emphasizes the rule of law, respect for political give-and-take and social reform through legal process.

Taiwan's pro-blue-camp media have continued to play up the idea that in a democratic country, the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly guarantee the citizens the right to demonstrate and demand that the president step down. In principle, this is correct, but when the rights of freedom of speech and assembly are stretched to become an excuse to deprive the majority of people of their freedom to make their own political choices, then there is a problem. We need to take a close look at such "freedom," and in some instances even use legal means to constrain this freedom.

Take the relatively developed democratic system of the US, for example. Not long ago, tens of thousands of people, including legal and illegal immigrants, marched in California and Washington demanding that Congress change its immigration policy to permit more immigration to the US and give illegal immigrants in the US welfare and legal status.

The demonstration fell within the limits of freedom of speech and expression, and therefore enjoyed the protection of the law. However, if this kind of protest were to surround Congress and the White House and refuse to end until President George W. Bush changed his policy, then the nature of the protest would have changed. Once the gathering obstructed the functioning of government, affected law and order or interfered with the very rule of law, then it would have to be checked.

Had it obstructed the normal functioning of the White House, Congress and general community order, then police would have intervened.

The media then would not accuse police of trampling on freedom of speech because disrupting social order is a separate issue -- and it is illegal.

Immigration law in the US is a product of the representatives of the American people. Anyone who opposes that law may express his opinion, but this does not give him the right to demand Congress and the president do everything according to his wishes. This is tantamount to demanding that millions of American voters be deprived of their right to a political choice.

Because laws are determined by Congress, it stands as the most authentic voice of the voter. A minority of protesters may express dissent, but it is unimaginable that in the US this right of choice would be taken away from the majority through forcing the president out of office or forcing Congress to change laws. It seems that the Shih supporters, who are pledging not to rest until Chen steps down, lack this basic understanding, which should in fact be shared by every citizen of a democratic country.

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