Independent investigation of police needed

When law enforcement officers and possibly plain-clothed national security agents broke into a room occupied by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taichung City councilors at Taipei’s Grand Hotel without a warrant on Nov. 3 last year, many shrugged it off as an isolated incident.

When police ordered the closing of the Sunrise Records music store in Taipei during Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit last year, there were reports of people being harassed and mistreated by police.

When an 18 year-old student was taken away by police, questioned for half an hour and had his fingerprints taken on March 12 for shouting “Step down” at President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), many dismissed it as a one-off incident.

They also laughed off concerns of a “return of the White Terror era” when media reported that a family member of a 228 Incident victim was questioned by police over her plans for taking part in a memorial.

People easily and quickly dismissed these incidents as isolated cases. But how many “isolated” cases must there be before alarm bells start ringing about the possibility of autocratic governance returning to Taiwan?

The above text is from today’s editorial in the Taipei Times. It was written in response to the most recent incident of police overstepping the limits of their powers when they interrupted a meeting of the Taiwan Blogger Association in Taipei over the weekend. The Taipei Times reported on the incident here and Taiwan political blogger Billy Pan has an on-the-scene report (中文).

Questions really need to be asked about the intent of the police officers involved and whose and what orders they were acting under. Was it simply a case of the “policemen’s lack of skills” or where they under specific orders from higher levels to gather intelligence or intimidate the participants? (It does seem strange that the police were so direct about seeking information. Wouldn’t the easiest way to gather information about a blogger meeting be to read their blogs?)

As the editorial spells out, and to my eyes, the ongoing pattern of inappropriate police behaviour is clear and obvious. I wrote a letter about this to the Taipei Times in December last year with further details on my blog. In the letter I wrote, “Taiwan needs to put in place clear mechanisms for investigating police misconduct. Police are responsible for upholding the law, but they should never be above the law. There also needs to be an independent commission established to thoroughly investigate the incidents that happened during Chen’s visit.”

The need for a more transparent mechanism for investigation of the police is becoming more urgent. That there still hasn’t been a proper public investigation of incidents during the visit of Chen Yunlin emphasizes this fact. In theory the Control Yuan should handle matters such as this, but there are concerns about the way the Control Yuan operates. Freedom House wrote an article in February this year (discussed on this blog) mentioning this concern.

The Control Yuan is undertaking its own investigation, but the extent to which its findings will be made public is unclear. Perplexingly, the process of such an investigation, or even whether it is taking place at all, remains unknown to even the most well-informed members of Taiwan’s civil society, let alone the public-at-large.

[…]

Comprehensive reports and regular status updates should be published of any investigations carried out by key government bodies, including the Control Yuan, the police and other agencies, irrespective of the political orientation of their subjects.

If the government is unwilling or unable to conduct a proper investigation of these incidents then an independent investigation could be commissioned by civil society groups. It would be important for such an investigation to be headed by a well respected person who is not seen as being partisan. Vigilance and action are essential for Taiwan to maintain its freedoms and avoid a democratic rollback.

3 thoughts on “Independent investigation of police needed

  1. Wouldn’t the easiest way to gather information about a blogger meeting be to read their blogs?

    I wonder whether that’s the kind of defense they’ll use to justify it.

  2. I agree entirely. However, two issues:

    What party in Taiwan is mature and secure in itself enough establish a truly independent body to oversee the police?

    What would prevent such a body from being victim of political interference if the results of an investigation were to find fault not just with officers on the ground but rather with superiors and the political leaders that marshal them?

    What we need is public awareness and outrage at the actions of police – the editorial today goes some way but it needs national media coverage in all outlets and public consensus that there is a pattern of behaviour that is ultra vires and against the rule of law.

  3. Pingback: Freedom of assembly is a basic right - David on Formosa

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