On July 13, Aboriginal folk singer Panai (巴奈) performed at a press conference organized by academics and social activists to symbolically “surrender” under the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法). More than 120 academics and social activists decided to turn themselves in to prosecutors for breaking the assembly law in a show of support for two professors who have been indicted for contravening the same act. Before singing, Panai asked who should turn themselves in.
The government should turn itself in, she said, and broke into song, playing her guitar. Panai’s music deeply moved those present.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights chairman Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) was indicted last month for standing outside the legislature and reading a eulogy for the Assembly and Parade Act.
National Taiwan University (NTU) sociology professor Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁) was indicted in May for supporting members of the Wild Strawberry Student Movement at a peaceful sit-in against proposed amendments to the act that are unconstitutional and would limit freedom of speech and assembly. The professors were expressing their disdain for an outdated and unacceptable law through non-violent, civil disobedience.
Freedom of assembly and association are ensured in Article 14 of our Constitution and on March 31, the legislature approved the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the latter of which guarantees the rights of our people to assemble and protest peacefully.
On May 14, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) signed both covenants at a press conference at the Taipei Guest House in front of domestic and foreign journalists.
The implementation regulations for the covenants state that the government should identify and review any laws or administrative procedures that violate the covenants within two years. The Assembly and Parade Act should be first up for review. It is a relic of authoritarian rule.
The prosecutors responsible for indicting the professors were unwise: They hastily charged the pair under Article 29 of the Assembly and Parade Act, even though it may soon be scrapped. This attracted strong opposition from academics, prompting the biggest protest movement within years from the academic circle.
Support for the protest quickly grew. Participants dared prosecutors to indict them, too, admitting that they had engaged in similar actions to Lee and Lin. The Judicial Reform Foundation gathered more than 50 lawyers in no time to back up the protest.
Are we supposed to believe that the prosecutors are unaware that the assembly law violates the Constitution? At the press conference, Lii Ding-tzann (李丁讚), a sociology professor from National Tsing Hua University, said he believed prosecutors were using Lin and Lee as an example to intimidate people into “choosing” to keep their criticism of public matters to themselves. Huang Jui-ming (黃瑞明), chairman of the Judicial Reform Foundation, who put together a team of lawyers to join the protest, said he suspected politics was influencing the judiciary in more than one way.
The movement had one goal — to express dissatisfaction. The participants are protesting an unjust law and political meddling with judges and prosecutors. The academics that participated come from various backgrounds. They included NTU law professors Yen Chueh-an (顏厥安), Lin Yu-hsiung (林鈺雄) and Chen Chao-ju (陳昭如), all of whom said they knowingly “broke” the law.
All the participants had a clear conscience and were not afraid of facing prosecutors.
As I watched each person turn themselves in by adding their names, academic institution and department to a list, I wanted to ask everyone in Taiwan the same question that Panai asked: Just who should be turning themselves in?
Lin Feng-jeng is a lawyer and executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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