The Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) passed its initial review at the legislature’s Internal Administration Committee yesterday, despite lawmakers and government officials’ failure to reach consensus on several clauses.
The act was first adopted in 1988 after martial law was lifted in 1987, its intended goal being to avoid social upheaval in the post-Martial Law era, while also protecting the public’s right to hold rallies.
The act has long been criticized by activists as legislation that restricts freedom of expression rather than protecting it. It requires organizers of demonstrations to apply for an assembly and parade permit before a demonstration takes place, grants the police the power to disband a demonstration if they find it necessary and forbids any demonstrations in certain areas surrounding government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions.
Activists have called for a change from a pre-approval system to a pre-notice system, the abolition of the police’s power to disband demonstrations and a cut-down version or the complete abolition of the restricted areas.
Although both Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators, as well as the Cabinet, support the pre-notice system, they argued on whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.
The Cabinet version of the amendment insists that organizers be required to notify police of a upcoming demonstration, while DPP lawmakers, including Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩) and Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如), argued for a voluntary system.
KMT Legislator Pan Wei-kang said she was against any change to the system at the moment.
“I’m not opposed to a pre-notice system, but I don’t think democracy is mature enough in Taiwan to put that system into practice yet,” she told the committee. “Violence could break out at demonstrations even when a pre-approval system is in place. I’m worried that we’d be paying too high a social price if we put a pre-notice system in place right now.”
The second dispute came when lawmakers discussed whether there should be a “safe distance” around government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions.
“Who will decide what the ‘safe distance’ is? If the police are to do so, they would have too much power,” Chen said.
KMT Legislator Tsao Erh-chung (曹爾忠) argued that “demonstration zones” should be designated around important government buildings, rather than making them off limits.
However, National Police Agency Director-General Wang Cho-chiun (王卓鈞) said it would be very difficult for police to safeguard government offices if there was no ‘safe distance’ clause.
Legislators also held differing views on whether police should continue to have the power to disband a demonstration.
The amendment passed the initial review after seven hours of debate.
“We will leave the disagreements to be resolved at cross-party negotiations later,” KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said.