The people responsible for one of the largest protests in Taiwan’s history were cleared yesterday of violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法).
Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and 15 others walked free after the Taiwan High Court acquitted them of failing to obtain a permit during the series of “red shirt” protests that started in August 2006.
Shih, a former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman, organized hundreds of thousands of red-clad protesters calling on then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down over allegations of corruption.
Prosecutors alleged that on Oct. 10, 2006, Shih violated the Act when he led thousands of protesters in a rally outside Taipei Railway Station in an attempt to besiege and surround the Presidential Office without applying for a permit.
The Act stipulates that demonstration organizers must apply with local police and authorities for a permit to use public spaces — including roads — and make a deposit at least one week prior to the demonstration. Authorities can order the demonstrators to disperse if they failed to obtain a permit in advance.
In February last year, the Taipei District Court declared Shih and the others not guilty after a judge said that despite calls from police to end the rally, it was unlikely that the thousands of protesters could disperse in the amount of time allocated.
Delivering the verdict yesterday, the higher court confirmed the earlier ruling, saying that under the “principle of proportionality,” the group could not be found guilty of failing to disperse.
Speaking after the ruling, Shih said he was glad he would not have to become a “political prisoner” once again.
He also called on lawmakers to revise or repeal the controversial Act, saying it was a tool that could be used to limit freedom of expression and the right to hold protests.
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