Sun, Apr 12, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Taiwanese in US raise concerns over human rights

By William Lowther  /  STAFF REPORTER , WASHINGTON

Taiwanese Americans are expressing grave and increasing concern about eroding human rights back in their homeland.

At a series of meetings in Washington to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), growing worries about freedom of speech and freedom of expression became the dominant theme.

Mark Kao (高龍榮), an official with the Formosan Association for Human Rights, told one gathering that Taiwanese students in the US are now often frightened to give their names if they say anything critical of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.

“We are deeply concerned about this situation,” Kao said. “There has been an erosion of human rights in Taiwan and it is getting worse since Ma took over last year.”

“I am often on university campuses and I find that students from Taiwan will not reveal their true identity when they speak critically of the Ma administration because they fear they will be harassed or made to suffer in some way when they go home,” he said.

Kao said that many Taiwanese students he had met in the US over the last few weeks believed that the government at home would take action against them if they were critical or complained about Ma’s pro-China policies.

“It is a common concern,” he said.

Eleven major Taiwanese organizations in the US met at the National Press Club on Friday to sign a petition to US President Barack Obama urging him to “break out of the stranglehold of the outdated ‘one China’ policy and move towards normalization of relations with Taiwan.”

White House sources said later that Obama would certainly read the petition, but that it was “highly unlikely” there would be any change in US policy.

A joint statement issued by the Taiwanese organizations said that as well as dealing with security issues, the TRA states that “the preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan” are objectives of the US.

“This clause was particularly important in 1979, when the Taiwanese still languished under the [Chinese Nationalist Party] KMT’s martial law, but equally relevant today, when we are witnessing an erosion of human rights and justice on the island,” the statement said.

Bob Yang (楊英育), president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, said: “Taiwan being a fledgling, young democracy, and having witnessed setbacks against democracies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world, we are and must continue to be vigilant in safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy and freedom.”

Helen Loo (翁進治), representing the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association, said: “Today, a great majority of the Taiwanese want to keep their hard-won freedom. But the Ma Ying-jeou government is working against the wishes and welfare of the people of Taiwan by pursuing an agenda of incremental capitulation to China by reducing the budget and size of Taiwan’s military, deepening the dependence of Taiwan’s economy on China and downgrading Taiwan’s international status ... There is no human right more basic than the right of self-determination.”

Also on Friday, a large group of Taiwanese — including four who had traveled from Taiwan to participate — completed a 222km walk from Independence Hall in Philadelphia to the White House.

They were marching to protest Ma’s policies, which they said were pushing Taiwan closer to China.

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