Sat, Dec 13, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Picking off the Wild Strawberries

Enough has been said about the timing of Taipei City police in dispersing the tail of the Wild Strawberry Student Movement at Liberty Square on Thursday morning — only hours after Human Rights Day ended — so there is no need to dwell on the irony of it all.

What is of more concern here is the obliviousness of the police to their growing image as a partisan agency and the slapdash approach they use in determining when and how to enforce the law.

On Thursday, Zhongzheng First Precinct head Chen Ming-cheng (陳銘政) said that several complaints had been received about the protesters’ presence in the square. The offended parties were not identified, nor were the merits of the complaints canvassed.

Given the large amount of time that Liberty Square and nearby areas saw occupation by pan-blue-camp protesters during the Democratic Progressive Party’s eight years in power — with little incident and even less police intervention — the police account reeks of pretext, and one so risible that commanders must be oblivious to the possible consequences.

It is as if the police could not rely on the law itself and had to call on anonymous discontent to justify the dispersal of peaceful protesters.

Also of concern is the behavior of police in apprehending Tibetan protesters at the same location and, in some cases, taking them to the hills of Neihu District (內湖) — in Taipei City terms, the middle of nowhere — and dumping them there. In some cases the hapless Tibetans did not even have the language skills to ask for directions.

It is not clear what this technique might be called in the National Police Agency officers’ manual, but from a legal standpoint it borders on abduction.

Dumping protesters in remote locations is a practice that must cease forthwith. If not, the police will once again invite scrutiny from international rights observers — not something that they would relish given the thoroughgoing incompetence of senior police in dealing with foreign observers.

While the somewhat exaggerated response in certain newspapers to this incident was predictable — Tibetans claiming Taiwan is more and more like China, and so on — the salient point remains that the government has no deep understanding of what human rights are, what kind of society defends them and the socioeconomic consequences of their decay, let alone the desire to instill in law enforcement authorities heightened procedural respect for criminal suspects and other people with whom they interact.

Week after week, the national and Taipei City governments have privileged theoretical entitlements of residents and bureaucratic expense over the natural right to free speech and assembly. Yet, despite all the bad press here and overseas, no one is learning anything, and senior police seem to be intent on showing that their word is final rather than acting as custodians of order in the face of frequently shaky law.

Most of all, the political mishandling of these harmless protests has been breathtaking. As with Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) comment that the student movement wouldn’t last more than a few days — a precious incentive for the students to continue that was obvious to everyone except the premier — the police actions at Liberty Square are likely to spread distrust between civic associations and the police.

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