After 12 days of speculation and controversy, Toronto-based Government Information Office (GIO) official Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) admitted yesterday that he was behind a series of online articles smearing Taiwan and Taiwanese under the pen name Fan Lan-chin (范蘭欽).
“I am Fan Lan-chin. I am Fan Lan-chin. Most of the articles [posted on Fan Lan-chin’s blog] were written by me,” Kuo said during an interview with CtiTV cable station broadcast yesterday morning.
Three hours later, the GIO’s Evaluation and Discipline Committee announced that Kuo would be relieved of his civil servant’s status.
Kuo, who had worked for the government for 25 years and had qualified for early retirement, will lose his pension, estimated at NT$4.6 million (US$135,930), unless the Civil Service Protection and Training Commission reverses the decision.
The online articles referred to Taiwanese as taibazi (台巴子), or “Taiwanese rednecks” and wokou (倭寇), or “Japanese pirates.” They also said that “the imposition of martial law had been a benevolent act of the then government” and that “[China] should spend many years suppressing [people in Taiwan] instead of granting any political freedom [to them] once it has taken Taiwan by force.”
Kuo, however, was not disciplined for his remarks, but for his misconduct.
“[The committee] gave Kuo two major demerits for committing an indiscretion that seriously damaged the reputation of civil servants and the government, based on Article 12 of the Civil Service Performance Evaluation Act (公務人員考績法),” Vice Minister of the Government Information Office George Hsu (許秋煌) said.
Kuo had been “inconsistent” in his explanations to the GIO about whether he was Fan, in a “knowing attempt to deceive the GIO,” and his comment to CtiTV that “a general in the field is not always bound by his sovereign’s orders” was another act of misconduct, Hsu said.
Kuo has 30 days to appeal the decision. He appeared shocked by the announcement.
“I received news that I’ve been fired just a few hours after being suspended. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Asked by reporters whether Kuo’s punishment meant civil servants did not enjoy freedom of speech, GIO Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓) said yes.
“No matter whether [a civil servant’s] articles are published under a real name or a pen name, it’s inappropriate for he [or she] to make remarks that hurt the image of the government, its institutions and civil servants. He [or she] should not do that. Everyone should be responsible for what he [or she] has said or written,” Su said.
During the CtiTV interview, Kuo, said he had not owned up to the Fan pen name at first “in order to defend freedom of speech.” He had previously said Fan was a pen name shared by a group of friends.
“Writing articles under pen names is one of the most basic principles of freedom of speech. There are two basic principles — one is anonymity — and another is that even the most extreme opinions should be allowed,” Kuo said.
“You can’t investigate an author who writes under a pen name. You could if we were still under martial law. But not in a democracy. Therefore, there was no need for me to tell [the GIO] that I was Fan Lan-chin. If I had done so, I would have damaged democracy and freedom of speech,” he said.
The Presidential Office said the GIO’s decision was “appropriate.”
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said that while it was important to respect an individual’s freedom of speech, a person whose remarks incited ethnic hatred should be condemned.
“Kuo’s words and actions have gone way beyond the boundaries that a civil servant is entitled to,” Wang said. “It was unbelievable.”
However, Wang pointed out that Kuo’s articles were published between 2005 and 2007 when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was in power.
The controversy over his remarks was due to the “provocation of some politicians,” Wang said.
“No one should instigate ethnic conflicts for political gain,” he said. “Because it is bound to sabotage ethnic harmony and the effort to become a more mature democracy.”
He said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had made vigorous efforts to heal the wounds caused by the “228 Incident,” which occurred when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was in power, and Ma would never tolerate any civil servant or KMT official saying or doing anything that would rupture the social equanimity.
Responding to criticism that the government had been slow to respond to the controversy, Wang said Kuo’s rights had to be considered and it was “appropriate” that the GIO did not make a decision before the truth was discovered.
A presidential official who asked to remain anonymous said that Kuo had “dug his own grave” and that what Kuo said and did during his short visit to Taipei was “way off base” and had done more harm than good to him and the government.
KMT caucus secretary-general Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) supported the GIO’s decision, saying Kuo had caused an ethnic uproar.
“We are thankful to the government’s daring and resolution. Now ethnic harmony can be restored,” Yang told a press conference.
Meanwhile, KMT Legislator Lo Shu-lei (羅淑蕾) called Kuo “ridiculous” and “detestable.”
“He has embroiled all ‘Mainlanders’ in his controversy,” Lo said.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the government had been hesitant to deal with Ku, whose remarks provoked ethnic confrontation, and it had failed to seriously discipline him the first time.
DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) called the GIO decision “delayed justice,” but said the caucus still wanted Ma and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) to apologize.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG, RICH CHANG AND CNA
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