Sun, Jun 05, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Activists blast bookstore verdict

PREJUDICE Activists and academics said that in finding Lai Jeng-jer guilty of selling ``indecent'' magazines, a Keelung court violated the basic human rights of homosexuals

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Gay and lesbian activists have decried a court verdict against the owner of a Taipei bookstore last week, calling it a setback for the rights of Taiwan's homosexual community.

Lai Jeng-jer (賴正哲), the owner of Gin Gin's Bookstore in Taipei, was found guilty on Tuesday by the Keelung District Court for selling "indecent" magazines and faces 50 days in prison. The sentence came two years after Lai, whose bookstore specializes in gay and lesbian literature, was charged.

At a press conference earlier last week, Lai said that he will appeal the verdict and continue to fight for justice.

"Judging from the attitude of Keelung customs officers, prosecutors and the judge during these two years, I am not surprised at the verdict," Lai said. "We [the gay community] believe that there is nothing wrong with the publications."

Gay-rights activists, who have lauded Lai's persistence in maintaining an independent bookstore for gays and lesbians, denounced the verdict as a reflection of the dominance of heterosexual ideology and hatred of the homosexual community.

Chang Hsiao-hung (張小虹), a proponent of women's rights and academic at National Taiwan University (NTU), said that the verdict showed that although Taiwan claims to be an open society which embraces racial and cultural diversity, it is still extremely conservative when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.

Echoing Chang's opinion, Chu Wei-cheng (朱偉誠), an NTU English professor, said that Lai's sentence is intended as symbolic punishment to warn the gay community not to violate social norms.

"Reading pornography is a common experience shared by homosexuals and heterosexuals," Chu said. "There is no reason to punish only homosexuals for reading or even just thinking about sex. I think we should abolish this ridiculous law."

Chu was referring to Article 235 of the Criminal Code, which Lai was found guilty of violating, and which states, "A person who distributes, sells, publicly displays, or by other means shows to another person indecent writing, drawing, or other [work] shall be punished."

Famous gay writer Hsu You-sheng (許佑生), cited a similar case in Canada and called on the Taiwanese government to emulate that country's protection of human rights.

"A bookstore owner who imported the book The Joy of Gay Sex from the United States in 1987 faced the same charge brought by the Canadian Custom officers. The judge found him not guilty," Hsu said. "Comparing the Canada case to this case, Taiwan's efforts to be a country with the respect of human rights is still years behind Western countries."

Josephine Ho (何春蕤), an advisor to the Gender Sexuality Rights Association and dean of National Central University's English Department, condemned the verdict for denying gay people their basic human rights.

"The verdict suggests that any sexual desire that come from the gay community is a sin. It is not only a denial of gays' human rights, but also a punishment of the empowerment of sexual desires and freedom to read, which is a serious loss to all of us, either heterosexual or homosexual," Ho said.

Lai was charged by the Keelung District Court in 2003 after Keelung customs officials confiscated more than 200 magazines imported by the bookstore.

Later the same year, the Keelung District prosecutors went to the bookstore and took away more than 500 magazines, including some that are legally published in Hong Kong as well as His, a local publication.

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