Thu, Nov 16, 2006 - Page 4 News List

Assembly and Parade Law scrutinized

USEFUL TOOL While enforcement officials said that the law had come in handy on Double Ten, rights activists feared that it gave authorities too much power

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

Academics and human rights activists wrangled with law enforcement officials at a legislative hearing yesterday on whether to scrap the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法).

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Joanna Lei (雷倩), who presided over the hearing, said the law concentrated too much power in the hands of the police, who can use it as a pretext for dispersing protesters arbitrarily, she claimed.

"The [Assembly and Parade] Law infringes on constitutional rights," Lei added.

Up for discussion

Vice Minister of the Interior Lin Mei-chu (林美珠), meanwhile, took a conciliatory approach, telling participants that "everything was up for discussion" regarding the law, which, she added, has been amended many times since its enactment.

The ministry also plans to hold a hearing soon to discuss whether the law should be further revised or scrapped altogether, Lin said.

However, Fang Yang-ning (方仰寧), deputy chief of the Taipei City Police Department's Zhongzheng First Police District, wasn't so conciliatory, saying that the Assembly and Parade Law was necessary in upholding law and order.

"I can see that some of you aren't very happy to see me," Fang said to a crowd of stonefaced academics after taking the podium.

The deputy police chief argued that the recent anti-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) protests had demonstrated the law's usefulness in segregating different groups of protesters with conflicting views for fear of clashes.

Freedom vs needs

"Yes, freedom of expression is vital to our society, but that freedom must be balanced with the need for law and order," Fang said, adding that the country was a place of diverse, sometimes conflicting political views and opinions.

As such, crowd control is necessary to prevent confrontation and chaos, Fang said.

Fang added that the Zhengzhong First Police District was overwhelmed while trying to maintain order amid the anti-Chen protests and needed the law to see it through the ordeal.

"We get situations where a protest leader will lead his crowd of demonstrators to an unauthorized area, dump them there and then leave." Fang said.

"At that point, that crowd becomes our responsibility," he added, referring to the Double Ten National Day protest against Chen led by former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德).

Shih led tens of thousands of protesters to Zhongxiao W Road and other areas in Taipei on Oct. 10 without applying for the appropriate permits to protest there.

Shih then reportedly left the demonstration soon after law enforcement officers began to forcibly remove protesters in the early morning of Oct. 11.

Wei Chien-feng (魏千峰), a member of Shih's campaign to oust the president, claimed that the Assembly and Parade Law was unnecessary as traffic laws and other regulations already in existence gave police all the authority they needed to keep protesters in line.

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