After six months in power, the most common criticism against President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration involves its pro-China leanings and its use of the judiciary and police to carry out political attacks and undermine human rights. The front page of the Nov. 24 issue of the US weekly Defense News ran a story headlined “In Taiwan, Arrests Raise Echoes of Martial Law.” The article mentioned that arrests of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members had led to allegations that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) “is back in the business of political repression.”
Since Ma’s government took office, the human rights situation has deteriorated, which is a shameful milestone in Taiwan’s democratic reform. On the one hand, this two-faced government claims to be following the law, while on the other, it openly uses violence against the demonstrators, restricting freedom of expression and arresting and settling scores with its political enemies. It has severely abridged the universal values of freedom and human rights. This is frightening and leads to worries that the ghost of the authoritarian past has come back to life.
The government is using the state’s monopoly on legal violence to suppress human rights, which has drawn strong domestic disapproval, while international human rights organizations have issued a series of statements calling for Ma and his administration to put an end to this worrying turn of events.
Among human rights organizations, Freedom House issued a statement on Nov. 20 calling on the government to set up an independent commission to investigate clashes between police and activists protesting against Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit to Taiwan and to show that Ma “is interested in upholding the democratic values of transparency and accountability.” The statement also said the inquiry should “investigate claims that police are selectively enforcing the law,” “examine controversial passages in Taiwan’s Assembly and Parade Law [集會遊行法]” and “protect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”
Freedom House was particularly concerned with police use “of heavy-handed tactics — including physical assault, arbitrary detention and destruction of property — to prevent Chen from seeing symbols of Taiwanese or Tibetan independence, as well as broader demonstrations against the Chinese regime.”
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Nov. 20 expressed its “deep concern regarding the detention and attacks against citizens protesting peacefully during the visit of Chinese envoy Mr. Chen Yunlin. FIDH believes that such arrests and violence are grave violations of human rights, under the pretext of national security.”
Ma’s mentor at Harvard, Jerome Cohen, has also published an article calling for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the incidents. Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Nat Bellocchi and several others wrote an open letter to the Ministry of Justice expressing their “deep concern about the recent series of detentions in Taiwan of present and former Democratic Progressive Party government officials.”
In other words, the Ma administration’s use of police violence to suppress the public, its persecution of political enemies and its bias against pan-green individuals has caused widespread concern in the international community.
Ma and his government, however, act as if they have heard nothing of this outpouring of international and domestic concern and are not interested in offering a positive response. The Wild Strawberries student protests and their sit-in are demanding that the government apologize, that the National Security Council secretary-general and the National Police Agency director step down and that the Parade and Assembly Act be amended.
The government refuses to apologize or dismiss any officials and the law will not be amended because the pan-blue camp holds a majority in the legislature. As for the suggestions that an independent commission be set up, the government hasn’t even responded and it is quite obvious that it has no intent to listen to the advice.
As for the concern that the government has selectively investigated pan-green individuals, the justice minister argued it was in the nature of corruption cases that government officials be targeted, since it is only they who have the power and the opportunity to get involved in corruption. Since opposition politicians — as were the KMT during the previous government — do not hold official positions, prosecutors have no reason to investigate them. This kind of reasoning is farcical at best. Certainly those pan-blue politicians who were investigated in connection with the special allowance funds for government chiefs were in government at the time. And how could it be that only Ma was investigated, while all the other pan-blue investigations were shelved, yet almost every single investigated pan-green politician was charged?
It is true that DPP Yunlin County Commissioner Su Chih-fen (蘇治芬), who was illegally detained, is a local government official, but wasn’t it equally true that all those pan-blue county commissioners and mayors charged with violating the law are also local government officials? Why were only the DPP county commissioner detained and held incommunicado, while pan-blue commissioners and mayors can go on with their lives as if nothing had happened? The ministry of justice’s statement was mere sophistry.
The Ma administration claims to abide by the law while it uses national security as a reason to control the judiciary and the police to trample on human rights. Taiwan’s democracy is in danger of collapsing and the shadow of the White Terror is looming dark over our heads.
Only by wielding the banner of human rights and freedom and opposing the government’s systemic violence by taking protests to the streets and bringing accusations to the attention of the international community can we fight back.
This is the only way to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy and save future generations from being trampled under the steel boots of authoritarianism.
TRANSLATED BY PERRY SVENSSON
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