Is Taiwan becoming a police state?

When I wrote about Chen Yunlin’s arrival in Taiwan on Monday I said, “it might be a little extreme to claim Taiwan has returned to the days of martial law or White Terror.” Perhaps I might have to take back my words. What the police is doing is going far beyond what is necessary to ensure the security of Chen Yunlin. It seems the police in Taipei are actively supressing citizen’s basic rights to freedom of speech.

I have co-written a post at Global Voices with Portnoy detailing some of the responses to the police actions from the blogosphere. There is sure to be much more written on the blogs over the next few days. What follows is to provide more detail and explanation.

One well documented incident occurred on Monday. Three women carrying Tibetan and ROC flags were stopped by police on Zhongshan North Road. They were then detained without charge. One of the women had her finger broken. You can view amateur video and news reports of the incident here and here. The report of one of the women involved, CoffeeShop is on her blog (中文).  The reason the women were held without charge is because carrying the flag of any country is not a crime in Taiwan. The illegal actions here were carried out by the police.

This is one of several incidents that indicate the police are making systematic attacks on the display of ROC flags and expression of opinion by individuals and small groups. It should be noted that these actions are being carried out by police in the area around the Grand Hotel and other places in Taipei that Chen Yunlin is visiting. The TAUP organised hunger strike and DPP rally is going on in Jinan Road next to the Legislative Yuan with only a low key police presence. The ROC flags are still flying on the fence around the Legislative Yuan. It is obviously one place that is not on Chen Yunlin’s itinerary.

It is not just ordinary people that are experiencing the harsh actions of the police. Police have also clashed with journalists. The Taipei Times reports:

Cheng Chieh-wen (鄭傑文), a photojournalist affiliated with the Central News Agency (CNA), was dragged away by national security agents at the Grand Hotel on Sunday while he was standing within the designated press area.

The Taipei Times also details restrictions being placed on journalists. And a documentary maker who gave her name as “Miss Chen” was detained by police for videoing while visiting a friend at the Grand Hotel. Last month Reporters without Borders ranked Taiwan 36th in the 2008 Index of Press Freedom, the second freest country in Asia. However, with actions like this it seems Taiwan will rapidly slip down the list.

Another indication of just how crazy things have become relates to an incident were police prevented a music shop from playing a CD titled “Songs of Taiwan” near a hotel where Chen Yunlin was visiting. There is a report (中文) in the Liberty Times (link via A-gu). [Update: English-language report in the Taipei Times]. This is like the actions of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

What has happened to the free and democratic nation of Taiwan? Will the government admit its mistakes and apologise to the people? Or will it just continue to trample on human rights and the rule of law until everyone is too afraid to dissent? These are undoubtedly the darkest days Taiwan has faced in two decades.

15 thoughts on “Is Taiwan becoming a police state?

  1. Thank you for the post in English. It makes easier for me to tell my friends abroad what’s happening now.

  2. Will the US State Department at least pay lip services to express concern about the violation of human rights and rule of laws by the Ma administration?

  3. I am sorry to see how the Ma gov’t compromise human right to gain little from economy. The true value of democracy lies on tolerance of dissent. Unfortunately, based on controversy, and mostly confrontation, of public opinion appeared the past two days, there is still a long way for Taiwan to go.

  4. I was sent this comment by e-mail from Buddhawind.

    “How does a Government supress a violent protest to a bunch of hoodlums who cannot stage a proper peaceful protest. It’s pretty decent the police hasn’t used sticks (until last night) thus far. It’s unpreventable when police are surrounded by mobs with mob mentality.

    Where are all the native Taiwanese? Don’t most Taiwanese know their ancestors of not very long ago moved from China to Taiwan? Can you condemn your own ancestors?

    Lastly for the folks who thinks controversy is now? Think about violence in the Parliament? The former president Chen/family/and close friends, are in black waters while people still listen to their incite
    against the present Gov’t. Don’t they see the current Gov’t is trying to clean the mess of the previous 8 years?

    Definitely sad times for Taiwan and the people”

  5. “Can you condemn your own ancestors?”
    Seeing that the taiwanese people’s ancestors have been dead for quite some time and are therefore not guiding China’s policies which the protesters are against, I don’t see how protesting against China is “condemning your own ancestors”.
    If Buddhawind is so keen on being ruled by his ancestor’s homeland, maybe he should get Kenya to annex China. We all came from Africa anyway, right?

  6. Thanks for your comments everyone. I have seen many things in these past few days. There are many aspects to what happened. I hope to write more about it tomorrow.

  7. Yes, you can condemn your own ancestors if they systematically killed millions (The Great Leap Forward) and destroyed their own culture.

    Most Americans came from Europe more recently than the oldest Taiwanese families came over from China. Does that mean we’re not allowed to criticize Europe, or that we should reunite with Great Britain?

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  9. HI David, Thanks for your good comments and article!

    When I read your previous comment about the white terror days, I was a bit surprised. Although I am not there, I can feel that things were going backwards (in terms of democracy and freedom) in Taiwan from reports from friends/media. The police power has been overused in several cases.

    Chen Yulin is only an official from an association from China, yet he got the highest ‘regard’ from the KMT. I wonder if other head of of state visit Taiwan, they can get such ‘royal treatment’ from the KMT.

  10. Given that President Ma has a clear electoral mandate for the negotiations it seems to me that the threat to Taiwanese democracy is coming from the protestors. They seem to prefer disorder to the electoral process.

  11. Richard, I think your logic is backward. Ma was given his mandate on the basis that he upheld Taiwan’s sovereignty. Instead he has left people feeling confused about Taiwan’s status. Instead of moving in step with the will of the people he is acting unilaterally. An electoral mandate doesn’t give a leader the right to act like a dictator. They must continue to listen to and act in the interests of the people they represent.

  12. I think Taiwan is about as far as it gets from being a “police state”.

    I was at the gathering in front of the hotel and it was a pretty rowdy group. People were throwing things at the police, screaming in their faces and knocking over parked scooters and garbage cans. The police were less aggressive than I have ever seen at any similar protest in any other country. Had a similar events occurred in either of our home countries, tear gas and tazers would have been used.

  13. Mark, I still haven’t had time to write in more detail about the police actions. I agree with you that the way police handled the large scale protests was reasonable most of the time. I know in Australia the police would be potentially be more aggressive in a similar situation.

    My concerns about the police relate more to police actions to seize people’s property and prevent individuals and small groups from peacefully expressing their opinions. In these cases police were neither upholding the law nor protecting the peace.

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