“But the list has now expanded to include students, activists and other protestors. It [the NSB] transgresses the law by denying the public’s freedom of speech and right to assembly,” Chen says.
YOU ARE BEING WATCHED
Government surveillance of activists and protesters is considered an open secret among activists, though they lack concrete evidence to prove it. Ask around at any of the demonstrations that have been taking place throughout the nation over the past six months, and protesters will tell you they never discuss important matters over the phone or on Facebook. “Targeted” activists always hear static, echoes, hissing and other noises on their mobile phones prior to and after big events and demonstrations. Reception is often poor and their phones are easily disconnected.
“Everybody is used to being under close observation by the police. Everyone can feel it. For example, if we change a protest location, the police will somehow find out and deploy officers to the new venue immediately,” Lala Lin says.
Hsu echoes Lala Lin’s concern that students and activists have been under observation by the police.
“One day a friend of ours said on Facebook he would come to Yuanli. When he walked out of the train station, a police officer was already there waiting for him,” Hsu says.
For seasoned activist Frida Tsai (蔡培慧), the fear is not knowing what the watch list might contain and how authorities will use it.
“It is the lack of transparency that makes me uncomfortable. You don’t know where the boundary lies — whether they tap your phone or know where you are at any given moment. And you don’t know by what legal right they can do what they do,” Tsai says.
“With criminal charges, at least I know which law I have broken and what evidence is being used against me,” Tsai adds.
As spokeswoman for Taiwan Rural Front (TRF, 台灣農村陣線), Tsai has been accused of multiple criminal offences for organizing demonstrations against government land policies and expropriations.
Having been engaged in social movements since 2005 — when he fought to preserve Losheng (Happy Life) Sanatorium (樂生療養院), TRF research staff member Hsu Po-jen (許博任) recalls how he and other participants in the Losheng preservation movement, mostly university students, were under tight surveillance. The experience, he says, changed how he thinks and acts.
“I have learned not to talk business in public and discourage my colleagues from doing so in restaurants and cabs ... It is absurd when you come to think of it. It is not like I am a spy or anything,” Hsu Po-jen says.