Charges against a Nantou County student who was allegedly the source of a post that turned out to be a major fake news story have been dropped.
The student had been charged with disseminating disinformation following the suicide of a Japan-based Taiwanese diplomat in September.
The student — a man surnamed Yu (游) from Nantou’s Puli Township (埔里) — was charged with breaching Article 63 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) after investigators alleged he was the source of a post that in September turned out to be fake.
Photo: Lin Tsui-yi, Taipei Times
Prosecutors said that Yu on Sept. 6 had posted on online bulletin board system Professional Technology Temple, claiming that China’s consulate was helping stranded travelers at Kansai International Airport following Typhoon Jebi, while the Osaka branch of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office was indifferent to the plight of Taiwanese stranded there.
A Taiwan Nantou District Court judge said that the evidence presented by prosecutors was insufficient to prove that social disturbance had occurred as a result of the post.
During questioning, Yu said he was in Osaka from Aug. 30 to Sept. 12, but denied owning the account used to make the post.
Yu said that his personal information had been used by someone else to open a fake account.
The judge said the evidence showed that the account belonged to Yu, but added that those stranded in Japan at the time only had to endure a long wait and there was no way to prove that the Taiwanese stranded at Osaka’s airport felt fear or panic.
Weng Wei-lun (翁偉倫), a lawyer and former public prosecutor at the Shilin District Prosecutors’ Office, said the judge’s position on the case was reasonable, because, although Yu’s post stirred up discontent with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Osaka, it did not invoke public fear.
Despite the judge’s decision not to proceed with a case, Yu would still endure a backlash from the online community and at National Taipei University, where he is a student, Weng said.
National Taipei University would communicate with Yu after classes resume today to try to determine his motivation for making the post and help him understand the severity of making untrue statements on a public forum, university secretary-general Lu Yu-cheng (呂育誠) said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the decision to not proceed with a case against Yu was “displeasing and regretful,” and that it was hard to accept.
The ministry said it would look into what actions could be taken to protect the rights and interests of those who were negatively affected by the disinformation Yu spread.
Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) said he was happy the person behind the fake news story was found, so that former director-general of the Osaka branch of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office Su Chii-cherng’s (蘇啟誠) name could be cleared.
Su committed suicide in his residence in Japan on Sept. 14.
Hsieh said that anyone would be furious over the suicide, which resulted from tens of thousands of people directing their condemnation and grievances at the small group of representatives working hard at the Osaka representative office.
Hsieh last month said that he asked for an investigation into the fake news story, but stopped pursuing the issue when he discovered the post was made by a university student.
“Finding heavier laws [with which to charge Yu] is a simple matter, but in the end I used the Social Order Maintenance Act — the lightest option — to pursue charges,” Hsieh said.
The Puli Police Precinct on Saturday said they would respect the court’s decision and would not pursue further charges against Yu.
Additional reporting by Wu Cheng-feng, Weng yu-huang, Peng Wan-hsin and Lin Tsui-yi in Japan
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