Civic groups yesterday slammed the government for making the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) “even stricter than before"by requiring protesters to notify the authorities before staging demonstrations.
The history of the act can be traced back to 1988, just after martial law was lifted.
It was written to avoid social upheaval in the post-Martial Law era, while seeming to protect the public right to hold rallies.
Activists have long criticized the act for restricting freedom of expression rather than protecting it.
The act requires demonstrators to apply for a permit before any protest takes place and grants police the power to disband a demonstration.
It also prohibits demonstrations near government buildings and foreign diplomatic missions.
Civic groups, including the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), the Judicial Reform Foundation (JRF), the Green Party and the Youth Labor Union, yesterday held a joint press conference to protest potential revisions to the act that would make it even stricter than before.
They chose yesterday to make their concerns public because amendments will go to a general vote in the legislature today.
Although both Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party legislators, as well as the Cabinet, support the notification system, they argued over whether it should be mandatory or voluntary.
TAHR chairman Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) said that requiring demonstrators to notify the authorities beforehand was essentially the same as asking for approval first because it still goes against the concept of demonstrators having the freedom to notify government officials.
However, “a voluntary notification system allows demonstration organizers to decide for themselves whether it is necessary to call on the government for assistance,” he said.
Taipei Bar Association secretary-general Kao Yung-cheng (高涌誠) said that if lawmakers supported a mandatory pre-notice system, they should conduct a statistical analysis of how many demonstrations complied with the notification system and how many violated it.
“A very limited number of unannounced demonstrations ended in violence,” Kao said.
The groups also called for the abolition of the powers police have to disband demonstrations, as well as a slimmed-down version or complete abolition of the areas that are off limits to demonstrators.
Under the proposed amendment, “if a person were to yell protests near [President Ma Ying-jeou, 馬英九] the person would immediately be taken away by the police,” Green Party Taiwan Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲) said.
“[The amendment would] blur the lines of police exercising their power,” Pan said.
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