Wed, Dec 20, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Military speech amendment needed

On Monday, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators proposed an amendment that would prohibit military personnel from presenting viewpoints that are not politically neutral. If the amendment is approved, those in the armed forces who criticize the government on the Internet could be prosecuted.

However, pan-blue legislators said that the proposed amendment violates the constitutional right to free speech.

If the proposed amendment to Article 6 of the National Defense Act (國防法) is passed by the legislature, it would prohibit military personnel from printing, distributing and posting documents, photographs, electronic messages or other propaganda that violate political neutrality.

In addition, military personnel would not be permitted to chair, initiate or participate in political gatherings or parades.

Regardless of whether or not the proposed amendment is passed, it will certainly push forward the debate on the limits of freedom of speech.

The amendment was proposed to correct incidents in which military personnel allegedly joined the anti-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) campaign led by former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德).

In one incident, Major Tung Haw-cheng (董華正), a military instructor at Taipei Senior High School in Shilin, was detained by the Military High Court Prosecutors' Office and charged with treason after he appeared in an anti-Chen protest and said that "once war breaks out, the guns will be directed inwards."

Opposition lawmakers suggested that the Ministry of National Defense is cracking down on all those in the military who support the anti-Chen campaign.

The pan-blue politicians also said that extending the ban to expression on the Internet would violate the right to freedom of speech.

The central issue of the matter is whether members of the armed services should enjoy the same right to express themselves as the general public.

As Article 138 of the Constitution states, "The land, sea, and air forces of the country shall be above personal, regional and party affiliations."

This specifically prohibits military personnel from espousing political stances.

Given the spirit and substance of Article 138, it is absolutely reasonable to prohibit servicemen and women from expressing political opinions.

It is also legitimate to limit the freedom of speech in the military through the proposed amendment to the National Defense Act. Armed forces the world over do not -- and cannot afford to -- tolerate dissent in the ranks.

If members of the military were able to selectively obey orders depending on their political stances, the armed forces would descend into chaos.

The restrictions in the proposed amendment are both necessary and appropriate. If military personnel were allowed to express their political views freely, this would violate Article 139 of the Constitution, which states that "No political party and individual shall make use of armed forces as an instrument in the struggle for political power."

In contrast to the mass movement against former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the anti-Chen campaign was conducted according to the law.

The international community took note of this and saluted the nation's increased democratic maturity.

The striking difference between the Thai campaign and the anti-Chen campaign is that Thailand's military leaders staged a coup. After the military got involved, Thaksin immediately lost power and martial law was declared, with the result that Thailand can no longer be considered a democracy.

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