Hualien Country's chief prosecutor yesterday criticized the around-the-clock police searches of motorists in the county ordered by Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien (余政憲) as being unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.
"Constitutional Interpretation 535 clearly states the rules which police officers must follow whenever they carry out a search. Obviously, Yu's order contravenes this article," the prosecutor, Yang Ta-chih (
Yang explained that any search which was not carried according to those rules would be regarded as illegal and any evidence gathered could not be submitted as evidence in court.
"In addition, nobody is guilty until the court finds him so. It seems to me that according to the order, officers have to first believe that everybody is suspicious and search her or him. This violates human rights too," he added.
On Tuesday, Yu ordered the police to set up check points on the main roads and highways in Hualien to search motorists. The road blocks will operated 24 hours a day until the election on Saturday.
According to Interpretation 535, which the Council of Grand Justices passed down on Dec. 14, 2001, when conducting any kind of search or raid, police officers must identify themselves, present search warrants and clearly explain the purpose of the search. If the police fail to do any of these, the suspect has the right to refuse.
Yang also claimed that Yu's order would damage Hualien's tourism industry.
"If you are a tourist to Hualien and see so many police officers on the roads, what will you think?" Yang said. "Wouldn't you think, `Public order in Hualien must be pretty bad'?"
In response to Yang's criticism, Minister of Justice Chen Ding-nan (陳定南) immediately held a press conference at lunchtime yesterday.
He said he respected Yang's right to speak out but that he should not have done it in public when his opinion went against those of his superiors. He expressed his support for Yu and the police's determination to crack down on election-related bribery.
"Yu's order for the police to carry out the 24-hour searches is more to prevent and warn than to crack down and arrest," Chen said. "The mission shall be carried out as a constant reminder to potential vote-buyers to stay away from bribery.
"That is the spirit of the mission. If the mission is carried out successfully, prosecutors will have an easier job as well," he said.
According to Chen, officers do not have to really search the motorists, since they are merely giving a warning. As a result, there will be no question of violating the Constitution.
"I must say, the police officers are not carrying out illegal raids. But Yang's remarks will mislead the public and I am afraid that our police officers will be misunderstood," Chen said.
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