Thu, Apr 07, 2016 - Page 1 News List

Legislative committee removes ban on passport changes

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

New Power Party Legislator Freddy Lim yesterday displays photocopies of the cover of a US passport and a Canadian passport partially covered by stickers at the legislature in Taipei.

Photo: CNA

The legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee yesterday approved a proposal to eliminate a controversial addendum to the Enforcement Rules of the Passport Act (護照條例施行細則) that bans any modifications to the nation’s passports, which has been criticized as targeting a pro-independence sticker movement.

At a morning meeting at the legislature, the committee conducted an item-by-item examination of a package of amendments to the Enforcement Rules, which was proposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November last year and took effect on Jan. 1.

At the center of the controversy is Article 3 of the Enforcement Rules — an addendum included in the amendment package with an expanded definition of a ban already in Item 2, Article 5 of the Passport Statute (護照條例) on modification, alteration or stamps to the passport, stipulating that the ban applies to both the cover and inner pages.

Presenting a picture of a Canadian passport embellished with a caterpillar sticker, New Power Party Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) asked ministry officials whether they would deny the holder of such a passport entry to Taiwan or bring them in for questioning.

“No,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Javier Hou (侯清山) replied.

“So, only Taiwanese with sticker-adorned passports would be given a hard time at the nation’s borders? Is it not extremely contradictory?” Lim said.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) pointed to a sticker with her name on it that was put on the cover of her passport by a travel agency as proof that Article 3 of the Enforcement Rules was tailor-made for the “Taiwan Passport Sticker Movement.”

Launched in July last year, the movement encourages Taiwanese to cover the “Republic of China” seal on their passport cover with a “Republic of Taiwan” (台灣國) sticker. It has attracted more than 30,000 followers on Facebook.

After reaching a consensus, participating legislators agreed to delete the addendum in question, which has sparked an outcry among supporters of the sticker movement, who accuse the ministry of infringing on their freedom of expression.

The committee meeting came two weeks after the DPP caucus decided to refer the whole package of amendments to the legislative committee for review. Under the law, it should have only be sent to the legislature and put on record for future reference.

However, due to the ministry’s opposition, legislators did not remove another related addendum — Article 22 of the Enforcement Rules — which allows government authorities to revoke the passports of people who violate the ban and refuse to “return their travel document to its original appearance.”

Bureau of Consular Affairs Director-General Kung Chung-chen (龔中誠) said that while he respected the new legislature’s opinions, the ministry would continue to advise the public to refrain from attaching stickers to their passports to avoid being denied entry to other countries.

Meanwhile, following the joint efforts of Lim and DPP Legislator Wellington Koo (顧立雄), a revision was made to Article 14 of the Enforcement Rules allowing first-time passport applicants to transliterate their names based on their pronunciation either in their mother tongue or Mandarin.

At present, people are only permitted to do so on their alternate names in the passport.

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