Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A win against police brutality

A teacher who was the victim of police brutality during last year’s Sunflower movement has been awarded NT$300,000 in compensation by the Taipei District Court. Although this might be the first ruling of its kind in Taiwan, hopefully it will not be the last time police officers are held accountable for exorbitant actions.

Lin Ming-hui (林明慧), a junior-high school teacher from Taichung who was taking part in a peaceful demonstration that briefly occupied the Executive Yuan compound from the evening of March 23 to the early morning of March 24 last year, was beaten and injured by police officers when they forcefully evicted the protesters.

Lin filed a lawsuit against the National Police Agency, the Executive Yuan, the Taipei City Police Department and the Taipei City Government, accusing the police of using excessive force when removing unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.

The court on Friday agreed with Lin and ordered the Taipei City Government to pay Lin NT$300,000 in compensation.

This is one of the very rare cases in which the government has been held responsible for disproportionate force used against demonstrators. Even though demonstrators have filed numerous lawsuits against the police, officers are usually acquitted on the grounds that they were following orders from their supervisors, even when the court sometimes agreed that there were flaws in the execution.

After Friday’s ruling, some police officers urged the city government to appeal the decision, saying that otherwise they would not know how to follow orders in the future.

However, giving a second thought to orders handed down by a supervisor might be just the lesson that some officers need.

The police play an important role in law enforcement, but when faced with demonstrators, they seem to focus only on getting them out of the way, instead of observing the law. They have, on occasion, disregarded due process when dispersing demonstrators or dealing with members of the media.

For instance, a group of journalists gathered outside the National Police Agency building once asked to speak to the director-general about a certain issue, but the police refused, with the commander declaring that the journalists were in violation of the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法).

When the journalists challenged his statement based on the Police Power Exercise Act (警察職權行使法), the police commander declined to make a written record of the protest, as the law stipulates, saying that he was acting according to the Assembly and Parade Act, but not the Police Power Exercise Act — though all officers should be following the latter law whenever they are on duty.

The journalists did not sue the officers at the time, but even if they did, chances are the officers would have been acquitted. The court might have said there were some flaws in the handling of the case, but they were not serious enough for the officers to be found guilty.

That was not the case this time.

In the written verdict, the judge said that although it was the police officers’ duty to disperse the crowd occupying the Executive Yuan compound, the police used excessive force by beating peaceful demonstrators with batons.

Perhaps next time police officers should remember the lesson and think whether they are taking the right measure when executing orders from above.

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