Thu, Apr 08, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Protecting our freedom of speech

As growing numbers of Falun Gong practitioners flee persecution in China, they are coming to the attention of overseas Chinese. Protest activities where they hold up banners and arrange press conferences accusing China of persecution are spreading all over the world. Falun Gong activities are a common sight on the streets of Taipei, which is why it was surprising that police fined one of the movement’s adherents for distributing flyers in front of Taipei 101.

Interior designer Hsu Po-kun (許柏坤) challenged the fine, and, fortunately, the Taipei District Court decided he did not have to pay up. Had that not been the case, it would have been a dark smudge indeed on freedom of expression in Taiwan.

Hsu often goes to Taipei 101 to display protest signs aimed at Chinese tourists that accuse the Chinese government of violating human rights and suppressing Falun Gong. On Dec. 4, he was fined NT$300 for obstructing traffic. Hsu brought the case to the Taipei District Court, where Judge Lin Meng-huang (林孟皇) ruled that the police officer who charged him had interfered with Hsu’s freedom of speech and dismissed the fine. In the verdict, Lin also criticized China for restricting people’s freedom of speech and called on the Taiwanese government to protect human rights.

To break China’s blockade on news about Falun Gong and protest China’s treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, its adherents in Taiwan often display placards and banners at Taipei 101, a popular attraction for Chinese tour groups. In democratic Taiwan, this falls under the constitutionally protected freedom of speech, and must be respected. Police interference in these demonstrations is unacceptable.

China suppresses freedom of speech and persecutes Falun Gong members, which has sparked strong criticism from international human rights groups. If the impression is created that the authorities are handing out fines to Falun Gong members for engaging in legal and constitutionally protected protests, it would deal a serious blow to Taiwan’s democratic and human rights image. The government’s strongly pro-China policies and its constant and deliberate attempts to avoid upsetting China seem to be having an effect on the lower levels of law enforcement, which could result in attempts to restrict the Falun Gong demonstrations as law enforcers follow the cues of the central government’s attempts to please China. This is a good example of how the administrative system has degenerated.

No other democracy has banned or fined Falun Gong followers. Even when one member made her way into the White House to protest when Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) visited former US president George W. Bush, she was quietly removed from the scene, but no charges were filed.

If Hsu’s fine had been confirmed, Taiwan would have become the laughing stock of the democratic world. Just like Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama or the Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, Falun Gong practitioners are not violent. Their human rights must be protected, and as long as their protests are peaceful, their freedom of speech remains constitutionally protected.

China does not subscribe to the internationally recognized values of human rights and freedom, and it therefore lacks the respect of the international community. The areas of freedom and human rights make up the most glaring differences between Taiwan and China, and this is the most fundamental reason why Taiwanese do not want to accept Chinese rule.

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