It may not have been overly dramatic of the Wild Strawberries Student Movement to stage a mock memorial service for human rights this week at the clumsily named National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. Pan-green politicians are being held for days on end without charge; serious allegations of excessive use of force have been leveled at police; and the true purpose of the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) came into sharp focus this month.
Though far from dead, civil rights essential to democracy are on a slippery slope.
All the more cause for alarm was Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng’s (王清峰) letter to the Taipei Times yesterday. Wang took an astonishing stance against the facts to rebut allegations leveled at prosecutors.
Despite the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) claims during its time as an opposition party that the judiciary was biased, Wang wrote in a letter to the Taipei Times that it is “quite simply untrue” that the nation’s “judicial system is susceptible to political manipulation.”
Kudos to Wang, who just might be the most optimistic person in Taiwan on this subject.
Wang dismissed claims that prosecutors were bending over backwards to please the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) figures arrested recently were all charged within 24 hours, she said.
This, unfortunately, is also “simply untrue,” raising concerns that Wang did not mean what she wrote or lacks a basic grasp of the legal system. Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), for example, was held for more than a week without charge. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) remains in custody — without charge — as the ministry applies pressure on his lawyer to stop talking to the media.
Wang promised in her letter there would be “absolutely no erosion of justice in Taiwan, no matter who the accused is.” This is a noble pledge, but it will take more than words from the minister to make her argument: The actions of prosecutors speak louder.
NGOs and observers abroad are closely watching the situation. In the past months, Taiwan, which normally draws little concern from human rights groups, has fallen into their radar.
The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the government’s “apparent interference in state-owned media” after both the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International complained of pressure from the authorities. The International Federation for Human Rights is concerned that police action during the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) curbed the freedom of speech of protesters. Reporters without Borders also expressed concern over the detention of a journalist covering the visit.
Likewise, the arrests of the DPP figures prompted a joint open letter from international experts, to which Wang’s letter was a confused response.
It should be amply clear that the actions of the current administration are not going unnoticed. At this point, convincing the Wild Strawberries and other skeptical voices at home and abroad that the nation’s human rights are as healthy today as they were a year ago will take a concerted effort indeed.
Unless the administration moves fast to remedy the situation, its reputation, like the nation’s human rights, will continue to erode.
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