Thu, Jan 02, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Freedom of expression needs to be protected

By Chu Ping-tzu 祝平次

Winter is here and the cold, rainy weather has dampened many spirits. However, the reports of 18 students being prosecuted for their roles in protests over forced evictions in Miaoli County are even more depressing. The students are not the ones who have been individually prosecuted for taking part in a string of protests over the past year — and there are some among them who have been prosecuted more than once.

Other changes that have been occurring are also a concern. In the past, these cases would have been prosecuted under the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), but the list of offenses is now becoming more diverse. Charges such as humiliating a public official, interference with a public servant in the execution of their duties and coercion are being made. It is as if the nation is reverting to a police state. This also shows how intimate the relationship between the police, prosecutors, politicians and big business has become.

Is the nation facing something like the cruel times that Confucius (孔子) lived through, during which he described common people as being those “who would commit suicide in a stream or ditch, no one knowing anything about them”?

When people die in mysterious circumstances, do people still turn to the so-called authorities who, unable to shake off their legal constraints, protect the wealthy, who are indifferent to whether ordinary people live or perish?

What were the prosecutors and police doing in Miaoli County? Is this really a case — once again to quote Confucius — of “from the ambition and perverseness of the one man, the whole state may be led to rebellious disorder”?

The students would love to know the answers to these questions. How would the authorities reply?

In the past, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would have said: “Return the streets to the people,” as indeed at one point he did.

Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), when he was serving as minister of the interior, responded to the Wild Strawberries Movement by saying that the government would revise the Assembly and Parade Act to give citizens more freedom of expression and speech.

However, the streets have not been returned to the people. If anything, the police have been given extended powers to ignore ordinary citizens’ right to take to the streets in protest and to impede their freedom of expression.

Not only has the ruling party on many occasions attempted to interfere with the Assembly and Parade Act, prompting certain judges to ask for constitutional interpretations on its implementation, prosecutors have also resorted to using other, more severe, pieces of legislation to deal with people.

Regardless of the outcome of these prosecutions, the cabal of politicians, police, prosecutors and big business has already largely achieved its goal of impeding the students’ rights.

Who are these students? Are they not the children, brothers and sisters of Taiwanese? Are they not the nation’s future? Does the public have no responsibility to stand behind them and support them in their concerns for society and their country. Should they not be supported as they seek the freedom to express their opinions?

Freedom has its limits, but those limits should not be drawn by national leaders, local government heads or judicial bodies. When even the Council of Grand Justices cannot come to conclusions regarding the rights of expression, then the police need to keep a sense of proportion and not destroy the precious foundation of democracy: People’s right to freedom of expression.

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