While those attending a public hearing yesterday on the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) agreed that reforms were necessary, government officials, legal activists, academics and lawmakers still held different views on whether clauses on restricted areas, the police’s power to disband demonstrations and the penalties on people who violate the law should be removed.
“It’s necessary to mark some areas as off limits for demonstrations to maintain the security of government offices,” National Chengchi University law professor Su Yung-chin (蘇永欽) told the public hearing held by the Legislative Yuan’s Internal Administration Committee.
The law states that the immediate surrounding areas of the residences of the president and vice-president, the premier, the Executive Yuan, and courthouses — among other government buildings — are off limits for demonstrations.
“Some law revision activists argued that since there are other laws, such as the Criminal Code (刑法), that sanction violent actions, the penalties should be removed from the Assembly and Parade Law. I’m opposed to that,” Su said. “The Criminal Code does not penalize people for carrying rocks around, but when demonstrators carry rocks with them they should be sanctioned as rocks can be used as weapons.”
However, Soochow University law professor Nigel Lee (李念祖) disagreed.
“Of course people who use violence should be sanctioned by the law, however it’s wrong to presume that everyone who participates in a demonstration will engage in violent acts,” Lee said.
Lee also supported removing the restricted areas, since “holding a rally is a civil liberty as basic as walking on a sidewalk.”
On the other hand, Chou Yu-hsiu (周宇修), a member of the “Wild Strawberries” student movement that is demonstrating for amendment to the law, raised the issue of whether police should be able to disband demonstrations.
“Police officers on the scene have full authority to decide when to disband a demonstration and they often abuse that power,” Chou said.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Cheng Li-wun (鄭麗文) echoed Chou’s view.
“Suppose there are a million people on the street, how will police disperse the demonstrators after issuing a disbandment order? And suppose there’s a small group of people — maybe five or 10 — demonstrating. What’s the point of disbanding that demonstration since they cannot possibly cause much disruption to social order anyway,” Cheng said.
Deputy Minister of the Interior Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) said that police should retain the power to disband rallies as a means to maintain order in case of emergency. Central Police University’s Foreign Affairs Department chair Tsai Ting-jung (蔡庭榕) said the clause should be retained, but the decision-making power should be in the hands of the elected mayor or an independent assembly and parades commission.
Opinions expressed in the public hearing will be forwarded to the Executive Yuan as a reference as it works on its own draft of a revision to the law.
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