Concerns about the political independence of prosecutors in Taiwan have “reached new heights,” an annual report issued on Thursday by the US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House said.
In particular, the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, which is tasked with investigating high-profile cases, was singled out for criticism.
The report highlighted the “political crisis” that erupted in September last year, when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) attempted to oust Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) based on accusations by the SID.
Despite the SID’s actions, Taiwan won high marks for democracy.
“Taiwan remained one of the best performers in Asia in 2013, as its civil society gained additional ground in influencing political debate and government policy,” the report titled Freedom in the World 2014 said.
The report also mentioned as examples of democracy the National Communications Commission’s rejection of a media conglomerate’s bid to purchase Taiwan’s second-largest cable TV provider and the collapse of efforts by a mostly China-based conglomerate to buy the Taiwanese assets of Hong Kong’s Next Media Group.
“A growing number of social movements led by students and civil society groups took place in Taiwan in 2013, initiatives that in the past had mostly been organized by political parties,” the report said.
On a scale of 1 to 7 — with 1 being the most free and 7 being the most restrictive — Taiwan was given top marks (1) for political rights and near top marks (2) for civil liberties.
This gave the country an overall “freedom rating” of 1.5 and a status of “free” — which was the same as last year.
China was judged “not free,” with the lowest possible rating of 7 for political rights and 6 for civil liberties.
The report said that over the past five years, the Asia-Pacific region has been the only place to record gains in political rights and civil liberties even though it was home to China, where more than half the world’s “not free” population lived, and North Korea, the “least free” country in the world.
“A number of Asia-Pacific countries have made impressive gains in the institutions of electoral democracy — elections, political parties and pluralism — and in freedom of association,” the report said.
Globally, the “state of freedom” declined for the eighth consecutive year.
Particularly notable were developments in Egypt, which endured across-the-board reversals in its democratic institutions following a military coup, the report said.
“There were also serious setbacks in democratic rights in other large, politically influential countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Venezuela and Indonesia,” it said.
Freedom House claims that its annual report is the “oldest, most authoritative report on democracy and human rights.”
Worldwide, 54 countries showed declines in political rights and civil liberties over the past year, while 40 showed gains.
The number of countries designated as “free” stood at 88, representing 45 percent of the world’s 195 countries, and the number qualifying as “partly free” stood at 59 percent or 25 percent of the world total.
There were 48 “not free” countries.
“This was not a year distinguished by political leaders who showed much inclination toward abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries,” Freedom House vice president Arch Puddington said.