President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday reiterated his staunch resolution to protect the freedom of press, quoting former US president Thomas Jefferson, saying that he would choose media over government.
In his weekly "President A-bian's e-paper," which is published on the Internet every Thursday, Chen said he knows personally the injustice of an unfree media.
"In 1986, Huang Tien-fu (黃天福), Lee Ying-yang (李逸洋) and I were discharged after serving 246 days in prison for our role in the Formosa magazine case," Chen says in the e-paper. "Therefore we profoundly acknowledge the value of free speech."
The three were all jailed on libel charges.
In the article entitled "From Gulag to Formosa," Chen said that it takes extraordinary courage to criticize a totalitarian regime, whereas democratic countries blossom freely because they are not "Gulag Islands."
"Though there have been quite a few shortcomings in Taiwan's democratization process, the transfer of political power set free the `Gulag' in everyone's mind," the president said.
Chen paraphrased Jefferson's famous remark, saying, "If I had to make a choice, to choose the government without the press or to have the press but without the government, I will select the latter without hesitation."
Chen also quoted Formosa magazine, which once wrote the words "Dark nights cannot last long, the tide will change mightily."
"To review the recent events [the publication of classified National Security Bureau documents in the local media], I can still find the power and vitality of Taiwan's democratic tide through its historic steps with flowing rhythm."
He went on to say that he hopes that society will think about the limits of democratic freedom and strike a balance between national security and press freedom in the wake of the incident.
"I believe that self-restraint and reflection can offer a new starting point for our politics," Chen said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said she felt bitter about what she called the misuse of the spirit of freedom.
"I want to ask whether the security of 23 million people is less important than the freedom of just a few persons?" Lu said when addressing a seminar on border security yesterday.
Lu said she was dismayed to see the freedom that so many people spent their lives fighting for being used by a few people to justify the disclosure of classified information.
"Freedom means honor and responsibility," Lu said. "We cannot allow people to use freedom as a tool for [releasing] intelligence," Lu said.