Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesperson Huang Di-ying (黃帝穎) yesterday criticized the government and police, saying there was serious encroachment of personal freedom and freedom of the press as police led “violent arrests of students and reporters” after protesters stormed the Ministry of Education building in Taipei late on Thursday.
DPP Legislator Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君) demanded Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa’s (吳思華) resignation, saying the ministry had overseen “unprecedented violations of freedom of the press.”
Police arrested 33 people after a group stormed the building in protest over adjustments to high-school curriculum guidelines — which critics say were decided on in a “black box” procedure — and ministry officials who continue to ignore requests for dialogue.
Three reporters were among those arrested, including Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) photojournalist Liao Chen-huei (廖振輝), who was among the first to arrive after the protesters stormed the building.
While he was taking photographs, he was told by officers that he was to be arrested.
Another reporter, who works for Coolloud Collective (苦勞網) — an online platform dedicated to social activism — was also detained.
Huang said police intervention over the actions of the reporters had no legal basis.
“The Constitution protects the freedom of the press from government intervention to guarantee the autonomy and independence of the media’s role in supervising the government. Restricting reporters’ personal freedom is an attempt to cover up the truth and has seriously violated freedom of the press and obstructed the development of a democratic society,” Huang said.
Press freedom has deteriorated during the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) according to a Freedom House ranking, Huang said, adding that police had deployed disproportionate force to “evict the media” on March 23 last year during the Sunflower movement, drawing criticism from the International Federation of Journalists.
“The arrests of journalists on Thursday on the pretext of a lack of invitation from the ministry was a flagrant abuse of freedom of the press,” he said.
“The violent treatment by police, the handcuffing of unarmed students and the confiscation of cellphones, and the arrests of the journalists while prohibiting them from using recording equipment was unconstitutional,” Huang added.
“Where should reporters go if not where the news is happening?” Cheng asked.
Police told Cheng that the reporters were under investigation because the ministry has taken legal action against them.
One reporter said he was knocked on the back of the head by police, despite identifying himself as a member of the press.
The Liberty Times Union yesterday also lashed out at the ministry, denouncing its “taking reporters as criminal suspects.”
“The Zhongzeng First Precinct confiscated the reporters’ communication devices, detained them in the building and transported them to a mobile police department for prosecutors to investigate further, a process that assumed the reporters were suspects,” the union said.
“The union severely condemns the action, which is a suspected breach of constitutional rights and an offense against personal freedom. The action has seriously trampled upon freedom of the press,” it said in a statement, calling on the central government and local administrations to revisit standard operating procedures for dealing with social activism.
The Association of Taiwan Journalists said prohibiting reporters from using mobile phones and filing news stories was a serious breach of press freedom and human rights.
“We do not accept the actions of the Taipei Police Department, who passed the buck to the ministry and prosecutors after making the arrests of journalists, even after the reporters had clearly identified themselves,” the association said, adding that it would offer assistance to any of the affected journalists who want to take legal action.
DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and 13 local governments across the nation affiliated with the party issued a joint statement urging the ministry to not implement the curriculum guidelines as planned, withdraw lawsuits against student protesters and apologize to the public over the issue.
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