Draft amendments to the Criminal Code to discourage violence approved by the Executive Yuan yesterday adopted a carrot-and-stick approach, raising maximum fines and prison terms for street brawlers, but waiving or reducing penalties for those who cooperate with police on the scene.
The bill was proposed following several street fights in Kaohsiung and Taichung, most notably a brawl late last month outside Taichung nightclub X-cube, which resulted in nine injuries.
One draft amendment states that if three or more people assemble in public places “in an attempt” at coercion or violence and ignore police orders to disperse at least twice, they could be sentenced to six months in jail or a maximum fine of NT$80,000, while the mastermind could face up to three years in prison, which cannot be commuted to a fine.
If three or more people assemble in public places and practice coercion or violence, the participants would be subject to a prison term of up to one year, detention or a maximum fine of NT$100,000, whereas the mastermind, as well as any individual ordered to perform acts of coercion or violence, would face six months to five years in prison, which cannot be commuted to a fine, another proposal states.
If an offender uses weapons or dangerous objects, threatens public safety or endangers traffic while engaging in coercion or violence, they would be punished one-and-a-half times as heavily, it states.
However, participants who stop illegal actions of their own accord or on the order of police would be exempted from punishment, whereas those ordered to carry out coercive or violent acts could see their penalties reduced, it states.
Under existing rules, people who congregate “in an attempt to” engage in coercion or violence can be fined NT$300 and only after ignoring three police orders to disperse.
In addition, existing laws do not define how many members make up “group.”
The Ministry of Justice said that with the prevalence of instant messaging apps and social media, a large crowd can gather and grow more quickly, and the proposals seek to clearly define when coercion or violence should be considered to have been carried out in a “group.”
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) last week said that if local police departments did not take timely action against brawls outside “special entertainment businesses,” he would have their police chiefs removed.
Special entertainment businesses are bars offering bar girls or sexual services, as well as nightclubs.
During a Cabinet-level meeting yesterday to discuss the draft amendments, Su said that the planned amendments have nothing to do with the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法).
Criticism from civic groups that the Cabinet wants to amend the act and curtail the right of assembly is based on a gross misunderstanding, he said.
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