Wed, Jul 31, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Repressing dissent kills democracy

By Liu Ching-yi 劉靜怡

The government rushing to accuse those who express dissenting opinions of breaking the law is not conducive to the conduct of rational dialogue, but will instead lead to further controversy about the state’s suppression of dissent.

If legislators — on the pretext of forestalling troublesome protests — endow the executive with extraordinary powers to stop, question and control citizens, or give security forces wider powers to control public spaces, this is just another way of making it harder for dissidents to speak out and limiting the spaces where they can express themselves. Even if this is not actually martial law, one should think about whether passing such legislation would violate the principle of proportionality, thereby making it unconstitutional.

As to the judiciary, is it right for judicial officials to continue tolerating the government as it drifts toward state terrorism under the guise of formal governance in accordance with the law, directing police and security services to — sometimes violently — arrest dissidents for no good reason under the pretext of ensuring their personal safety?

Similarly, when law enforcement authorities misinterpret legal clauses to define dissidents as lawbreakers, when they charge protesters based on concepts outlined in the Criminal Code such as “causing public danger,” “obstructing officials from carrying out their duties” and the even more laughable charge of “defamation of government offices,” when the executive — which controls law enforcement — shows a complete lack of self-control, should the public not call on the judiciary to exercise the power afforded to it under the principle of separation of powers to provide checks and balances?

All the issues mentioned above are common knowledge as to the how democratic and constitutional governments are supposed to ensure that autonomous citizens always make up part of society. There is no need to back this up with profound, abstract legal and philosophical jargon.

When one encounters dissidents whose opinions are rational and engage in action to express those opinions, one should not allow officials who have no interest in safeguarding dissidents’ basic rights to suggest that protests “do not comply with democratic methods.”

Lawmakers and other officials who lack democratic values, and who make little or no effort to protect dissidents who are upholding democracy, are failing to carry out the responsibilities that the public has entrusted them with.

Liu Ching-yi is a professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development.

Translated by Julian Clegg

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