Sun, Jul 26, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Curriculum Protests: Arrests threaten press freedom: journalist

SUNFLOWER PRECEDENT?Liao said that reporters were allowed in the legislature during the Sunflower movement, so they should have had the same permission for this story

By Huang Tun-yan, Tsai Ying and Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) photographer Liao Chen-huei, center, Coolloud Collective reporter Sung Hsiao-hai, left, and freelance journalist Lin Yu-yo walk out of an office at the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office after refusing to pay bail on Friday.

Photo: Chen Chih-chu, Taipei Times

The arrest of three journalists on Thursday for entering the Ministry of Education building to cover a protest over proposed adjustments to high-school curriculum guidelines could muzzle the freedom of the press, one of those arrested said yesterday.

Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) photographer Liao Chen-huei (廖振輝), Coolloud Collective reporter Sung Hsiao-hai (宋小海) and freelance journalist Lin Yu-yo (林雨佑) were among 33 people detained by police for entering the building on Thursday night. The journalists were put under house arrest after each refused to post bail of NT$10,000 on Friday.

“I saw students breaking into [the ministry’s headquarters], and I instinctively thought that it might be a repetition of the Sunflower movement,” Liao said. “As a reporter, how could I not follow them to witness a historic moment?”

The Sunflower movement was a 23-day student-led protest during which protesters occupied the main legislative chamber last year. The protest was over what critics called the government’s opaque handling of a service trade agreement with China.

Liao said he was at the site to cover protests in front of the building on Thursday night, adding that he followed protesters who entered the building, photographing events as they unfolded, including the initial arrests.

An officer tried to persuade him and the other two journalists to keep away while officers were making the arrests, Liao said.

However, they were allowed to remain until an officer, seemingly the commander on the scene, told them that the police had to arrest and detain students and reporters alike because the ministry insisted on filing charges against all intruders, Liao said, adding that the three journalists were not allowed to access their cellphones or laptops.

The police confiscated Liao’s cellphone, and his request to call the Liberty Times office to say he was safe was denied by police, who told Liao that they had to ask a supervisor for permission.

Liao said he did not know whether the officers had relayed his request, adding that he was not allowed to make any calls during the first few hours of his detention.

Liao asked why they were being treated like criminals when reporters were allowed into the Legislative Yuan during the Sunflower protests.

Police violence against reporters could easily lead to a chilling conclusion, he said.

Asked if he would cover protesters breaking into restricted sites again, despite spending a day in custody and facing a legal battle, Liao said: “I would definitely follow [protesters] and go where they go.”

“We need more reporters [at such occurences] so the government does not dare abuse its power and infringe on the freedom of the press,” he said.

Sung said that after being arrested, the three journalists were kept in the ministry’s lobby, with SWAT officers standing guard.

“I asked an officer: If we are being arrested, could we contact lawyers? However, the officer said he had to ask his supervisor,” Sung said. “We waited for more than an hour before someone said that the ministry would be pressing charges. However, when we were transferred to police headquarters at about 2am, the police said they had to make sure the ministry really wanted to take legal action.”

Lin said that when he was taking pictures before being arrested, officers tried to prevent him from doing so by covering his camera and threatening to arrest him for obstructing officers of the law.

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