President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government recently denied that relations between China and Taiwan are state-to-state in nature. The Ma administration also showed China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) the highest possible respect and treated him in a way usually reserved for heads of state of diplomatic allies. The treatment extended to Chen was not appropriate considering the actual relations between Taiwan and China, nor was it in proportion to Chen’s status. This makes the political motives behind such treatment suspicious.
Especially in the upholding of security, the government resorted to inappropriate and excessive use of police force and infringed on people’s right to freedom, in effect representing a new form of martial law. These developments posed an unprecedented threat to Taiwan’s democracy and constitutionalism. In the past, the government imposed martial law in the name of quelling Communist rebellion, but now it accommodates the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without any fear or feeling of urgent danger. According to article 141 of the Constitution of the Republic of China: “The foreign policy of the Republic of China shall, in a spirit of independence and initiative and on the basis of the principles of equality and reciprocity, cultivate good-neighborliness with other nations, and respect treaties.”
How can the government justify the reinstatement of authoritarian methods to meet the demands of China?
However, some people seemingly deliberately tried to create this semi-martial law situation in order to bring back a one-party dictatorship and eliminate the opposition, ganging up with the CCP to help them achieve “eventual unification.” It is questionable whether the motives and methods used and the goals of these people were constitutional and legal.
First, the freedoms of expression and association are basic human rights enshrined in the Constitution. These rights are also protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international legislation.
In other words, as long as the safety and freedom of attendees are not put in danger, protests and gatherings against a foreign diplomat are in line with the Constitution, and they are legal, reasonable and legitimate according to Article 23 of the Constitution. One-sided executive orders or punishment should not be used to deprive attendees at such gatherings of these rights, and violence must not be used.
However, although the demands and methods of the attendees at the recent rallies were in line with the Constitution, 7,000 police officers were dispatched to maintain security, which is clearly far more than necessary. These officers also closed off all traffic, surrounded the protesting groups, unscrupulously used violence against demonstrators and even attacked legislators, city councilors, reporters and academics attending rallies. The methods were not commensurate with the objectives, and the government could be suspected of expanding and abusing its power.
Second, when the government is characterized by neutrality, government power is no longer a personal tool for a political party and the state apparatus is not used as a tool for dealing with political dissent.
The rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution do not require the approval of those with a different political opinion, nor can they assign those rights — this is the right to equality outlined in the Constitution.
If administrative organizations act in breach of administrative neutrality regulations by withholding benefits from certain people, these organizations should be held politically and legally responsible. Such incidents should be handled by the judiciary, monitored by the legislature or handed to the Control Yuan for impeachment proceedings. It is also illegal to infringe on or neglect to protect the equality of the right to freedom, and such actions should not be permitted in a democratic nation under the rule of law.
During the recent protests, marching supporters of the China Unification Promotion Party (中華統一促進黨) bearing China’s national flag were permitted entry to the cordoned-off area on Zhongshan N Road. However, in the same area, those bearing Taiwan’s national flag or other flags were stopped and prohibited from going any further. They had their flags confiscated and some were arrested and manhandled by the police. This is another example of a breach of the Constitution.
Third, I believe it is vital to ascertain responsibility for violence in any situation. In principle, violence in any form is illegal. Only peaceful and well-intended demonstrations and peaceful and well-intended means of maintaining security can be considered legal.
Several members of the police force on duty during the recent protests acted in an extremely hostile manner toward protesters and even those who were just there watching the protest. They also adopted excessive force in upholding security at the protest.
Further investigations are required to show whether they acted as they did because of inadequate police training or because they followed orders, or whether they had in fact acted appropriately to put an end to violence.
The police were well within their rights if they arrested ruffians who attacked them, but they violated the law if they used violence against peaceful protesters.
Photos clearly show that plainclothes policemen entered the crowds and attacked protesters, and that triad members and people with political opinions different from those of the protesters entered the crowd to attack the police. Such acts were deliberately aimed at creating a violent situation and having the protesters blamed for it. This created an opportunity for the police to suppress the protests and lent credence and legitimacy to their actions.
The intentions behind such acts are cruel and crafty and must be investigated, with due punishment meted out to those found guilty. For example, police resorted to force strong enough to have killed when they removed people from the scene of the protests, and a reporter from Formosa TV news sustained head injuries after police hit the reporter with a baton. Blatant violence of this nature violates the principle of proportionality and should be strongly condemned.
Huang Chi-yao is a visiting researcher at the Max Planck Institute and a consultant on international law.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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