Fri, Dec 20, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Committee passes state-secrets bill

AFTER THE SCANDAL The new legislation was prompted by media disclosures in March this year of classified files showing the NSB kept secret budget surpluses

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A legislative committee yesterday approved a state-secrets protection law but staved off clauses that would allow authorities to seek an injunction forbidding publication of materials considered harmful to national security and to deny defendants the right to cross-examine witnesses.

Lawmakers also failed to agree on the definition of state secrets and the lengths of protection that should apply to them.

KMT Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順), who chaired the meeting of the Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, ruled that review of all disputed articles should be delayed until the bill's second reading, which should not take place until cross-party talks have been held to iron out differences over their content.

The legislation was prompted by disclosures in March this year of classified National Security Bureau documents showing the bureau has kept budget surpluses to sponsor covert intelligence operations.

Former bureau cashier Liu Kuan-chun (劉冠軍), who allegedly pocketed millions of public money before fleeing the country in 2000, reportedly leaked the materials to Next magazine and the China Times.

"National security must not be used as a pretext to strangle freedom of the press, or the latter may not engage in robust, uninhibited reporting of the government," Huang said of the proposed injunction.

Introduced by DPP lawmaker Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), the injunction measure which remains in dispute says authorities may petition the court to impose a temporary ban on publication and dissemination of materials they regard as damaging to national security.

It would also allow the judiciary to conduct closed-door hearings and deny defendants the right to cross-examine witnesses, if the court deems such a restriction to be necessary.

Proponents argue such legislation is necessary to rein in the nation's media, which, they say, have shown an increasing penchant for sensational, scandalous stories in recent years.

With China constantly looking to annex Taiwan, freedom of the press must be properly restrained to avoid jeopardizing national security, said Chiu Chwei-liang (邱垂亮), a visiting professor at Tamkang University.

To that end, investigators raided the offices of Next magazine and the China Times in recent months, moves that drew sharp protest at home and abroad. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), in a bid to calm the outcry, was forced to quote late US president Thomas Jefferson's remark that, "...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. "

The suggested injunction would grant those in possession of sensitive materials three days to appeal the ban, on which the court would be required to hand down its ruling within seven days.

As the clause is bound to infuriate the media, Huang said she does not expect its sponsors to push for its inclusion any time soon.

"The ruling party is well aware of the enormous political price such legislation would take," she said.

The Liu scandal has led to the resignation of former national security advisers Yin Tsung-wen (殷宗文) and Ting Yu-chou (丁渝洲), both of whom held top executive posts in the NSB when Liu's alleged misdeeds took place.

While sharing the need to protect state secrets, committee members differed on their definitions, with opposition lawmakers insisting their scope and duration be narrowed.

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