Many rights advocates consider the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) an “evil law” and the most commonly criticized part of the law is that it gives police officers on the ground too much power. What happened in the rally in front of the American Institute in Taiwan’s (AIT) Taipei office yesterday is a case in point.
Because the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has designated the AIT office and its surrounding area a restricted zone for assemblies and parades, more than 70 police officers were deployed when only about a dozen activists showed up in front of the office, trying to deliver a petition to AIT, urging the US government to help protect Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠).
After a brief news conference explaining to the press what they were doing, the groups were told that they could send three people into the AIT office to deliver the petition.
However, on reaching the steps in front of AIT, the three representatives were asked by police to disperse the “crowd.”
“But we have already announced that the event is over,” Amnesty International Taiwan director Yang Tsung-li (楊宗澧) said. “I have no power to force people to leave, while they have every right to stay on the sidewalk.”
However, the police insisted.
The police then used a loudspeaker to issue an official police order telling the crowd to “disperse.”
“We have already dispersed,” the five or six people standing and talking on the sidewalk said, laughing. “We’re just here waiting for our friends to come out.”
Although a clause in the Assembly and Parade Act does stipulate that an assembly or parade organizer should declare the end of a demonstration, and “persuade” participants to leave, it does not say that organizers are required to make people leave.
In other words, although the event was finished, it could officially still be considered an unlawful assembly because some participants decided to hang around talking. According to the law, the police at the scene are the ones with the authority to decide a course of action, so if the police say the rally is still going on, it is still legally going on.
In 2007, the police charged environmentalist Chen Chiao-hua (陳椒華) for violation of the Assembly and Parade Act after she staged a one-person sit-in outside the National Communications Commission.
The charge was brought because police said she was engaged in an assembly.
In the case of the AIT petition, the police said they would not help to negotiate a meeting between the protesters and AIT officials if they did not first instruct the remaining activists to leave. When the three representatives insisted they had no right to do so, the police immediately withdrew from the negotiations.