Tue, Apr 06, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Court rescinds fine, slams censorship

FREEDOM OF SPEECH Taipei City police gave a fine to a Falun Gong supporter for holding protest signs aimed at Chinese tourists in front of the Taipei 101 building

By Liu Chih-yuan, Yao Yueh-hung and Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Lawmakers across party lines yesterday expressed support for the Taipei District Court’s rejection of a fine given to a Falun Gong activist by Taipei police for distributing flyers in front of Taipei 101.

To break through China’s constant information censorship on the Falun Gong movement, Falun Gong supporters in Taiwan often wave placards and distribute flyers to Chinese tourists in front of the Taipei 101 building.

Interior designer Hsu ­Po-kun (許柏坤), however, was fined NT$300 by Wei Kuo-hsiung (魏國雄), a police officer in Taipei’s Xinyi District, on Dec. 4 last year for “hindering traffic” at the building.

“I wave signs peacefully and I don’t stalk or provoke [Chinese tourists]. Why was I fined? Is Taiwan becoming the same as China, which oppresses Falun Gong?” asked Hsu, who appealed his case to the Taipei District Court.

Taipei District Court Judge Lin Meng-huang (林孟皇) said Hsu was expressing his opinions peacefully and rationally to Chinese tourists without hindering traffic, adding that his right to do so is protected by the Constitution.

In the ruling, apart from rescinding the fine, Lin criticized Chinese government censorship and urged the Taiwanese government to protect human rights.

Lin’s criticism of Chinese censorship in the verdict is unprecedented in Taiwanese judicial history.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus secretary-general Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said the District Court’s ruling was “correct” because people have the right to voice their opinions.

“Freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution and [the police] should not infringe upon the public’s basic human rights ­unless their behavior poses a threat to public order or violates other people’s freedoms,” Lin said. “Punishing him [Hsu] for this [protesting Chinese oppression of Falun Gong] was excessive.”

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators accused the Taipei City Police Department of lacking “respect for civil liberties.”

“The [police] need to understand that the public has the right to freedom of thought and expression,” DPP Legislator Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) said. “The police department needs to revise its policies and stop pandering to the KMT government.”

She called on the authorities responsible for the incident to be “re-educated” on civil liberties, saying that Taipei City ­police should ­undergo an internal review of how they handle such situations.

DPP Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如) also compared the handling of Hsu’s case to criticism over how Taipei City police handled protests during a visit by China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林).

Police measures during Chen Yunlin’s visit in 2008 drew criticism from civil liberties groups of excessive restrictions and curbing of public freedom.

“There are clear similarities between the two cases. In both cases, the police have been too overzealous in fulfilling the government’s wishes to shut down any perceivable opposition,” Chen Chieh-ju said. “It’s becoming ­ridiculous and they need to revise their policies. I’m going to bring this up in the legislature.”

Hsu said Falun Gong is an illegal organization in China, which blocks all information about the group. He and other practitioners often wave placards at popular tourist spots to draw attention to China’s crackdown on the sect. He said that he did not intend to provoke Chinese tourists.

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