Wed, Jul 13, 2016 - Page 3 News List

Groups call for ‘real’ protection for right to protest

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Members of civic groups demonstrate in front of the Legislative Yuan yesterday against amendments to the Assembly and Parade Act.

Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times

Representatives of dozens of civic groups yesterday staged a rally in front of the Legislative Yuan calling on lawmakers to remove provisions restricting people’s right to protest, including maintaining restricted zones and police discretion over where demonstrations can be held.

The legislature is expected to clear some major amendments to the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) before the legislative session ends on Friday.

The proposed amendments include the scrapping the need to apply for a permit or to notify authorities before staging a demonstration, and changing the name of the law to the “assembly and parade protection act,” which is meant to highlight the transformation from a government-centered law to a people-centered one.

Dozens of activist groups, including the Taiwan Association for Human Rights, the Taiwan International Workers’ Association, the Taiwan Alliance for Victims of Urban Renewal, the National Alliance for Workers of Closed Factories, the Judicial Reform Foundation (JRF) and the Huaguang Community Canvassing Working Group, said the proposed name change is a “false gesture of progressiveness” by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and called on the party and other caucuses to “ensure real protection for demonstrators.”

The legislature’s Internal Administration Committee in May passed proposed amendments to the act, but maintained restrictions on protests being held around government buildings and police’s right to disperse demonstrators. The amendments went through cross-caucus negotiations early this month.

The groups urged the caucuses to abolish both regulations, “as they amount to conferring equal power to the government as it had before for limiting and impeding people’s rights to assembly and parade.”

JRF researcher Ho Yu-lun (何友倫) questioned the appropriateness of setting restricted zones around certain government buildings and hospitals, saying: “The front gate of the Legislative Yuan, where we are gathered today, is just a street away from the National Taiwan University Children Hospital and is within the supposed restricted zone; if we are not allowed to protest here, where can we hold a protest?

Alliance for Workers of Closed Factories member Lu Chyi-horng (盧其宏) said the government has failed to see that authorities have in recent years started to favor using the Criminal Code (刑法) over the Assembly and Parade Act to arrest and prosecute demonstrators, as he called on lawmakers to ensure that the new amendments would disallow that.

As an example, five people protesting the forced demolition of Taipei’s Huaguang Community — who according to the groups did nothing physically or verbally violent — were arrested and charged with obstructing official duties in April 2013. On June 15, they were sentenced to 50 days of detention that is commutable to a fine of NT$1,000 per day.

“It is proof that the government has been abusing the judiciary to oppress social activism,” said Lin Ching-hao (林靖豪), one of the five defendants.

The New Power Party has been the sole party caucus that has responded positively to their calls, the groups said.

NPP Legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) showed up at the press conference to voice his support.

At the end of the news conference, the protesters turned around to face the front gate of the Legislative Yuan and hurled buzzers over the gate to signal “warnings that people have insufficient protection from the new assembly and parade act.”

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