Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 4 News List

INTERVIEW: Freedom House stresses safeguarding of democracy

Freedom House released its annual ‘Freedom in the World’ report in Asia for the first time yesterday. The Freedom House delegation — Christopher Walker, director of studies; Bridget Welsh, academic adviser and a professor at Johns Hopkins University ; and Sarah Cook, Asia researcher — talked to ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Huang Tai-lin on Monday, sharing their thoughts on Taiwan’s democracy and how they are looking closely at the ‘bumps in the road’ it has encountered late last year to see whether they would have any larger implications this year

Members of the audience examine a “Map of Freedom” and other documents published by the US nonprofit organization Freedom House at the global release of the group’s report at Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei yesterday. The event was hosted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: On Nov. 20 last year, Freedom House issued a statement calling on the Taiwanese government to set up an independent commission to investigate the clashes between demonstrators and police during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit. Have you seen anything that has either eased or aggravated such concerns?

Christopher Walker: There have been some developments in Taiwan in recent period that’s been a cause of particular concern, and that was one of the driving reasons for the issuance of the statement we released late last year, and something we are monitoring very closely now. So 2009 is really a critical year for Taiwan in our evaluation, because many of the proceedings, measures and events that we started to track last year will be moving forward and perhaps moving toward completion, so this would be a critical year for seeing how Taiwan institutions respond, and to see whether they self-correct that suggest the democratic system is working effectively.

Bridget Welsh: A lot of things involving trials, for example, we wait to see the overall process. When a trial begins, you don’t want to judge too quickly, you want to wait and see how the process evolves. Before we make an assessment, we try to look for more effectively how things have changed, as opposed to event-driven.

Sarah Cook: We understand several channels have been found. I think there was a police investigation started internally; there had been a request for an investigation by the Control Yuan, and we are following that to see how those have been investigated. There have also been some cases that have been submitted directly to the courts by people individually who think their rights have been violated by the police, or by some other restrictions. All these are all in a very kind of early stage now. Nonetheless, it is an encouraging sign to see at least steps are being taken. But we will be following to see how fair and how in-depth and how impartial this judiciary goes.

TT: Taiwan qualifies as an electoral democracy. However, some have expressed concern that with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) controling both the executive and legislative branches, there maybe a democratic tyranny in the making, or an authoritarian regime that exploits democracy. Have you come across such concerns in your analysis?

Walker: I think there’s always the concern that if you have a dominant political force, this may somehow diminish the checks and balances. But I don’t think it is necessarily the case. I think you have to keep a close eye on whether the institutions of democracy are doing their job in preserving the independence of judiciary.

For example, in a democratic context — ensuring that prosecutions are not done selectively, that they are being done according to the rule of law, being done on the basis of facts, and not on basis of some sort of political direction. In any sorts of setting where you have a single party dominate democratic institutions, you have to be mindful and careful about [these things]. The priority is not to say that it will be the case, there’s more of a question of keeping a close eye on the institutions that retain their integrity, whether or not there’s one party in control.

TT: So, so far there has not been any flag that has prompted concern about Taiwan in that regard?

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