DPP proposes parade law amendment

STUDENT PROTESTS: The DPP hopes to abolish the legal requirement demanding that rally organizers seek government approval before staging demonstrations

By Rich Chang, Flora Wang And Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTERS

Tue, Nov 11, 2008 - Page 1

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus yesterday proposed an amendment to the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) that would eliminate the requirement for protest organizers to apply for permission from law-enforcement authorities.

The amendment would only require organizers to report planned rallies to police.

“If the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT] caucus does not block the amendment at tomorrow’s [today] meeting of the Procedure Committee and agrees to send it to the legislative floor for Friday’s plenary session, the DPP caucus would ask that the amendment be allowed to skip preliminary review so that it could pass its third reading by Friday. This would mean the students at Liberty Square could go home,” DPP caucus whip William Lai (賴清德) told a press conference yesterday.

Lai was referring to about 400 students led by National Taiwan University sociology professor Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁) who began a silent sit-in last Thursday in front of the Executive Yuan in Taipei.

The students are demanding that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) apologize for what they term the “excessive force” police used against demonstrators opposing the visit of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) last week.

They are also demanding that National Police Agency ­Director-­General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞) and National Security Bureau Director Tsai Chao-ming (蔡朝明) resign and that the government scrap the Parade and Assembly Law.

The students were forcibly evicted by police on Friday night because they had not filed an application in accordance with the Assembly and Parade Law. They later reconvened the sit-in at Liberty Square at the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall.

Two more groups of students in Taichung and National Cheng Kung University in Tainan launched sit-ins on Sunday echoing their counterparts in Taipei.

Another two student groups began sit-ins yesterday at Hsinchu’s National ­Tsing Hua University and Kaohsiung in support of the demonstration in Taipei.

The sit-ins have been dubbed the “Wild Strawberry Student Movement.”

Lai said the amendment would allow event organizers to report planned rallies to police, rather than having to seek approval from law-enforcement authorities.

The amendment would also abolish an article banning rallies that advocate communism or “division of national territory,” as well as an article stating that rallies cannot be held around the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, the presidential residence, airports, important military facilities and embassies or offices of foreign countries, Lai said.

The amendment also seeks to abolish the rights of law-­enforcement authorities to disperse rallies, Lai said.

According to the amendment, if two individuals or groups wished to hold rallies at the same time and place, law-enforcement authorities would have to conduct negotiations, and if the parties insisted on sticking to their plans, the rallies would be held simultaneously, but separated by barbed wire fences.

DPP Legislator Chen Chi-yu (陳啟昱) said Ma had previously pledged that the Parade and Assembly Law would be amended to a “report” system, and that the streets would be “returned to the public.”

Ma should realize his campaign pledge while his party controls the legislature, Chen Chi-yu said.

The Assembly and Parade Law, which took effect under the KMT administration in 1988, has come under fire from several rights groups over the years as an instrument used by the government to control the public and curb freedom of expression.

The premier said yesterday that the government’s stance on amending the law was in line with that of the student protesters.

When asked for comment, Liu said he would urge the KMT caucus to hold public hearings on how to amend the law, adding that he hoped the demonstrators would also send representatives to attend the hearings.

Liu said the KMT had initiated proposals to amend the law to a report-based system.

Nevertheless, he urged the students to end their demonstration and return to school.

Meanwhile, Minister of Education Cheng Jei-cheng (鄭瑞城) called on the demonstrators to express their viewpoints “legally.”

Hsu Jen-shou (許仁碩), spokesman for the students at Liberty Square, said the government should communicate directly with the students and that they would hold meetings to jointly decide whether they would accept the government’s suggestion and end the sit-ins.

Chanting “the Assembly and Parade Law is unconstitutional and we are being deprived of our human rights” simultaneously at noon, the students in Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung continued their campaign amid rain, cold weather and sporadic protests from people opposing the sit-ins.

One woman brought a megaphone with her to Liberty Square and accused the students of “twisting the meaning of freedom.”

“Kids, you should condemn corruption instead,” she said. “Shouldn’t those who launched the rally and instigated the demonstrations apologize?”

Meanwhile, the KMT caucus said it was worth discussing whether the time was right to amend the law.

KMT caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) told a press conference that although he sympathized with the student protesters, they should be demonstrating against the DPP.

The DPP had blocked the KMT’s proposals to amend the law 10 times during the sixth legislative session, Chang said.

KMT Legislator Tsao Erh-chang (曹爾忠), a former police officer, said he hoped that reasonable regulations for rallies could be established.

“The objective of amending the law is to help maintain peace in society,” Tsao said.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) declined to comment when asked whether any caucus had boycotted amendments to the law in the previous legislature, saying only that lawmakers could initiate their own proposals if they saw the need to amend the law.

Wang said it was important that the public should reach a consensus on the matter, because some people were concerned that protests could get out of hand if all people had to do was notify the police if they were planning a protest.

The Presidential Office said that although Ma was in favor of amending the law, it was important the public reach a consensus on the issue.

Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said the administration supported revising the law, because it had been one of Ma’s election promises.

A Presidential Office official who asked to remain anonymous said that the law had already been amended to bring it in line with the Constitution.

“It is wrong to say that the law is unconstitutional,” he said. “The police may turn down some applications, but that hardly ever happens.

The official said the problem was not whether protesters should obtain a permit or notify the police in advance, but whether organizers could prevent violence. The official said the government had not dispersed the illegal gatherings because they were peaceful and rational.

However, the government would like the students to obtain permits and participate in public hearings so they could also listen to others’ opinions, the official said.