While ranking Taiwan as a free country in its annual Freedom in the World 2009 report, the US-based Freedom House said this year was a pivotal year in the country’s democratic development.
Dubbing Taiwan as a “vibrant democracy” and “one of Asia’s success stories,” Sarah Cook, an Asia Researcher with Freedom House, told a press conference in Taipei that this year would be a crucial test of whether the nation’s self-correcting mechanisms would kick in to ensure that judicial independence and the due process of law are upheld.
The group expressed concern over the heavy-handed police action and the obstruction of protesters’ freedom of expression and assembly during the visit by Chinese envoy Chen Yun-lin (陳雲林) last November.
Estimates put the number of injured during that week at more than 100 people, including protesters and police officers. Several people reported being beaten by police.
Police also prohibited people from carrying Republic of China flags and shut down a record store for playing a pro-Taiwan song.
To date, the government has not apologized for reports of police brutality and argued that an independent commission to probe the issue was unnecessary because such tasks fall under the jurisdiction of the Control Yuan.
Cook said the Freedom House and other international human rights organization would monitor judicial impartiality in the case against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), due process rights for the general public, as well as the nation’s self-correcting mechanisms.
The group said that its freedom rating is based on an overall evaluation of a country’s democratic process and institutional trend rather than on isolated incidents. On a scale of one to seven, one being the most free and seven the least free, Taiwan received a two in political rights and a once in civil liberties — the same rating it was given last year.
This year’s report covered 89 countries, or 46 percent of the 193 nations in the world.
The number of “free” countries, the group said, declined by one from the previous year’s survey. North Korea was rated as the least free, while Finland topped the list as most free.
The group said that last year saw a regression in freedom in sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union states.
South Asia, however, showed the most improvement, with Pakistan, the Maldives and Bhutan recording progress linked to elections.
Other Asian countries, such as Afghanistan, Myanmar, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Tibet dropped in the scale.
China’s increased repression instead of promoting human rights reform as it had pledged in connection to hosting the Summer Olympics saw it score seven in political rights and six in civil liberties.
Freedom House director of studies Christopher Walker said the global economic slump presents a severe challenge to many countries but the effects of the financial crisis have yet to be seen.
This is the first time Freedom House released its annual Freedom in the World report in Asia, and Taiwan was chosen as the venue because the group regarded it as one of the most “vibrant democracies” in the region.