Mon, Aug 13, 2007 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Shih Ming-teh indictment inspires new round of call sfor end to `outdated' law

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) is not high on the average person's list of worries, it is a relic of the Martial Law Era that risks encroaching on their freedom of assembly and speech when they most need it, activists said yesterday.

No significant amendments have been made to the law since it was enacted in 1988. Minor revisions were made in 2002 that did not change the basic nature of the law, which the activists said suppresses the right to demonstrate rather than protecting freedom of assembly and speech.

When Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and 15 others were indicted on Aug. 3 for violating the law during street protests last October, activists took up the cause of calling for an amendment with renewed fervor.

Prosecutors said that the protests -- aimed at forcing President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to resign over a spate of corruption scandals surrounding the first family -- were held without permission from the police. Prosecutors also said that 16 protesters did not disband when ordered to do so by police.

The main criticisms against the law concern the requirement that demonstrators apply for a permit and the power granted to police to disperse demonstrators in the name of maintaining public order.

Wei Pei-hsuan (魏培軒), director of the legal department at the Taiwan Association of Human Rights, said that two regulations empowering police to impose restrictions on the time, place and method of protest had been designed specifically to weaken demonstrations.

"It should be the public, not the police, that has absolute discretion to decide in such matters. First of all, freedom of assembly and association is a right protected in the Constitution. Secondly, the setting of the time and place is key in deciding the success or failure of a protest," Wei said.

Lin Feng-jeng (林峰正), executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation, said the law had been introduced against the backdrop of a regime struggling to retain its power following the end of 38 years of martial law.

Now that the nation is a successful democracy, society views protests as common and acceptable, Lin said, but it is "frustrating" that the KMT and DPP have not shown interest in amending an "outdated" law.

"The law is lagging far behind advances in society's perception of demonstrations. It's hard to believe that the DPP has turned into a conservative party in this regard," Lin said.

Since the DPP came to power in 2000, only once has the government proposed an amendment to the law, in which it suggested repealing the article stipulating that people cannot make communist or seperatist statements at demonstrations.

The amendment, which followed a ruling that the article was unconstitutional, cleared the legislature without objections, but lawmakers across party lines took the opportunity to amend the law to incorporate stricter regulations into other articles.

Under the amendment, the official residences of the president and vice president, foreign embassies, the official residences of ambassadors and offices of international institutions were designated as off limits for demonstrations.

In addition to the 16 participants in last October's demonstrations who stand charged, many protesters campaigning for education, labor and environmental reforms have been charged with violating the law.

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