Rights advocates yesterday called on lawmakers across party lines to adopt revisions to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) to better protect people’s right to freedom of expression.
The legislature’s Internal Administration Committee is scheduled to review amendment proposals today.
“Tens — even hundreds — of thousands of devotees take part in the annual weeklong Dajia Matsu (大甲媽祖) procession, and along the way, there are police officers to protect the participants and keep the procession moving smoothly,” former Taiwan Association for Human Rights chairman Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) told a news conference at the legislature.
“The Dajia Matsu procession is no different from most of the civic or political parades, and we should enjoy the same degree of police protection, instead of the police monitoring we’re subjected to nowadays,” he said.
Lin was referring to the annual procession to mark the goddess Matsu’s (媽祖) birthday, which departs from Jenn Lann Temple (鎮瀾宮) in Greater Taichung.
Although most human rights advocates have long described the Assembly and Parade Act as an “evil law,” a “relic from the Martial Law era,” and campaigned for its abolition, some decided to compromise and endorse more liberal amendments — such as the one proposed by 30 Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Taiwan Solidarity Union lawmakers.
The proposal would eliminate the pre-approval system so that parade organizers would only need to notify the local government of an upcoming parade or rally, instead of having to obtain a permit from authorities.
It would also abolish restricted areas and require authorities and the police to provide assistance to help keep rallies and parades moving smoothly.
“The streets are an outlet for disadvantaged groups,” said Kao Yung-cheng (高湧誠), spokesman of the Human Rights Covenants Watch.
“The more disadvantaged a group of people are, the more they need to take their issues to the streets to raise public awareness,” Kao said.
“The state should not put so many restrictions on the freedom of expression of the disadvantaged, it is not fair,” Kao said.
DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), the main initiator of the proposed amendment, said the present law was a remnant from the Martial Law days.
“The law was made right after martial law was lifted in 1987, when the government was afraid it would not be able to maintain social order without martial law, and the mentality was that ‘social stability is more important than human rights,’” she said.
“It’s time to change it now,” she said.
“I hope that all my colleagues at the Legislative Yuan — regardless of party affiliation — will support the reform,” Cheng said.