Thu, Apr 02, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Are the police taking liberties?

When law enforcement officers and possibly plain-clothed national security agents broke into a room occupied by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taichung City councilors at Taipei’s Grand Hotel without a warrant on Nov. 3 last year, many shrugged it off as an isolated incident.

When police ordered the closing of the Sunrise Records music store in Taipei during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit last year, there were reports of people being harassed and mistreated by police.

When an 18 year-old student was taken away by police, questioned for half an hour and had his fingerprints taken on March 12 for shouting “Step down” at President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), many dismissed it as a one-off incident.

They also laughed off concerns of a “return of the White Terror era” when media reported that a family member of a 228 Incident victim was questioned by police over her plans for taking part in a memorial.

People easily and quickly dismissed these incidents as isolated cases. But how many “isolated” cases must there be before alarm bells start ringing about the possibility of autocratic governance returning to Taiwan?

At a press conference on Monday, DPP Taipei City councilors Chien Yu-yen (簡余晏) and Yen Sheng-kuan (顏聖冠) alleged the city’s Department of Police had sent two officers to a private gathering organized by the Taiwan Blogger Association on Saturday. The officers then asked the participants to show their IDs and provide them with their cellphone numbers.

An eyewitness said two officers informed them that their superiors wanted to know who was taking part in the gathering, what they were doing and whether all the participants were bloggers.

What’s happening to Taiwan? Since when do ordinary citizens have to provide police with information about private gatherings?

In response to the Taipei City councilors’ questions, the director of the police department’s security office, Tsai Wan-lai (蔡萬來), said he was not clear about the details of the incident, adding that it could have resulted from “the young policemen’s lack of skills.” Any personnel found guilty of misconduct would be disciplined accordingly, he said.

What exactly did Tsai mean by “lack of skills”? Does his explanation mean that the officers in question were not disciplined for violating civil rights but for being clumsy?

Over the past years, the image of the nation’s law enforcement officers has improved greatly. However, much has changed since Chen’s visit in November, leading to a tarnishing of the police’s reputation and a growing perception of officers being arrogant and abusive.

Despite this evidence, some may still dismiss these incidents as isolated cases and not indicative of an erosion of democracy in Taiwan.

If this mindset persists and no action is taken to prevent such incidents from taking place, one day people could find their blogs being censored and the contents of their iPods being scrutinized.

By then it would be much more difficult to stand up, speak out and take measures to redress the gradual weakening of civil liberties.

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