Wed, Jan 27, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Protecting the right to protest

The recent jailing of an environmental activist has human rights lawyers concerned that police are using the Criminal Code to suppress protests

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Protesters stage a sit in on Jinan Road in April, 2014 to show support for the Sunflower movement.

Photo: Chen Kuan-pei, Taipei Times

When Wang Chung-ming (王鐘銘) called on the government to halt the demolition of a military veterans community in 2013, he was charged with obstructing official duties because he scuffled with police. He was found guilty and sentenced to three months in jail.

Later that same year, the Green Party activist was arrested and sentenced to another three months in jail for clashing with police during a protest against the removal of trees for a public construction project.

“I was surprised to learn that I was found guilty,” Wang said of the court’s unusual decision to jail a protester. “Nobody saw it coming.”

Wang’s legal problems illustrate how authorities have used the law in recent years to suppress protests. Whereas police once relied on the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) to silence dissent, today they are employing other criminal charges to regulate protests. Legal activists have raised concern over police misusing the legal system, as a growing number of protesters are arrested and charged for acts as innocuous as throwing a piece of paper at the police during demonstrations.

LAW IN TRANSITION

Under the Assembly and Parade Act, protesters require permission in advance from the police for rallies and demonstrations. However, the law, created one year after martial law was lifted in 1987, does more to infringe on human rights than protect them.

“Although martial law ended almost 30 years ago, authoritarian thinking has survived Taiwan’s democratization. From the police to judges, the fundamental right to peacefully assemble is still deemed to be a threat to social order,” says Kao Yung-cheng (高涌誠), a human rights attorney and advocate.

A legal case in 2009 eventually led to the Council of Grand Justices to issue Constitutional Interpretation No. 718 last March, which ruled that provisions of the act are unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation has had a direct impact on police and prosecutors, who now rely on sections of the Criminal Code (刑法) — illegal entry into a building, obstructing official duties, insulting a public official — in an attempt to curb demonstrations.

Chen Yu-fan (陳雨凡), deputy executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation (民間司法改革基金會), says that these laws are being used in an arbitrary and trivial manner.

Chen cites as an example the arrest of a student who threw the sleeve of a coffee cup at police during an anti-nuclear protest last April.

“A push or a nudge can lead to arrest for obstructing public duties. It is rather absurd to think that peaceful, unarmed demonstrators can pose a threat to large numbers of police and stop them from executing their duties,” Chen says.

In the study Criminal Risk Management for Assembly and Parade (集會遊行的刑事風險管理), human rights lawyer Tsai Ya-ying (蔡雅瀅) reveals that it is not only protesters who think the laws are absurd.

“Even the police officers I interviewed think... demonstrators are punished too harshly,” Tsai says.

UNDER PROSECUTION

Human rights activists worry that criminalizing protests will likely discourage and intimidate people from participating in public demonstrations.

“Not many people can handle the pressure of being tangled in litigation for a long time. I’ve seen students unable to study abroad because they have to go to court. It definitely has a coercive effect on protesters,” says Chen.

This story has been viewed 4506 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top