A National Tsing Hua University student is considering suing police after he was charged with violating the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) for posting a warning about child kidnapping.
“I am upset now,” Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷) said in a post on his personal Facebook page yesterday. “How can the police consider people who pass on information because they are worried [about the safety of the public] ‘guilty until proven innocent,’ and if they are unable to find the original source of the message, guilty of spreading rumors?”
“I’m thinking of filing a lawsuit over false charges,” he said.
Chen, the administrator of the Facebook page “I live in Hsinchu City” (我住新竹市), posted a message on March 28 warning that a man had allegedly tried to kidnap a child in Hsinchu County, but the child’s family spotted him and he ran off.
“The next day, I got a phone call from the neighborhood’s management committee, asking me where I got the information. I said a Facebook user passed the information to the ‘I live in Hsinchu City’ page, and not long after, I got a phone call from the police about the same thing,” Chen told the Taipei Times.
Chen said he immediately contacted the user who forwarded the message to the Facebook page.
“We spent a week trying to find the original source of the message, without success. We were questioned by police on Tuesday and the next thing we know is that we are charged with violating the Social Order Maintenance Act,” he said.
A police source said Chen was charged with violating Article 63 of the act, which provides penalties of up to three days’ detention or a fine of up to NT$30,000 (US$1,000) for “spreading rumors that may disturb the peace of the public.”
“The charge is a bit harsh, but we had to do something because we received a complaint from the public,” the source said.
Many Facebook users criticized the police’s handling of the case.
“If spreading rumors is a crime, why don’t the police press charges against media outlets that report baseless rumors?” one user asked.
Another, Yi-cheng Peter Wu, who said he lives in the neighborhood where the alleged kidnap attempt allegedly happened, said flyers have been posted around the area reminding people to be careful.
“As a resident, I don’t feel particularly horrified. I take it as a friendly reminder,” he said. “Why is Chen Wei-ting the only person charged for giving such a reminder?”
Chen is also a co-convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters.
Last year, the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) threatened to sue him over an image posted on his Facebook page showing a CtiTV news report of a student protest against the Want Want-China Network Systems (中嘉網路) merger.
He was also slammed by the Chinese-language United Daily News following his criticism of Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) at a legislative committee meeting.
Additional reporting by staff writer