Assembly Law attacks freedom of speech

The Taiwan Association for Human Rights (台灣人權促進會; TAHR) and Forum Asia have released a joint statement calling on Taiwan to respect and protect freedom of assembly by dropping charges against two prominent human rights defenders and amend the Parade and Assembly Law (集會遊行法) in accordance to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The two human rights defenders are Lin Chia-fan (林佳範), President of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), and Lee Ming-tsung (李明聰), Vice-Chairperson of Amnesty International (AI) Taiwan and assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at NTU. Lee and Lin were charged under Article 29 of the Parade and Assembly Law for their involvement in two separate protests in November 2008. Lee was involved in a sit-in outside the Executive Yuan on 6-7 November that marked the beginning of the Wild Strawberry Movement (野草莓學運). Lin led a demonstration at the Legislative Yuan on 19 November calling for amendments to the Parade and Assembly Law.

A recent article (中文) on the Wild Strawberry Movement’s blog says that police presented 20 photographs of Lee holding a megaphone as proof that he planned and led the protest outside the Executive Yuan. The article asks the question whether every person at the protest who held the megaphone could be considered to have been involved in planning the protest. It asks all people at the protest to e-mail photos or video that can be used as evidence of what really happened in front of the Executive Yuan on those two days.

Another case involving the Assembly Law was also in the news today. The Taipei Times reported Panai Luni was served with notice of a fine of NT$30,000 for leading a protest outside the KMT headquarters in Taipei in March this year. The protest was against the demolition of the Saowac Community of Amis people by the Taoyuan County Government. Deputy Precinct Chief Hsu Shao-tsong (徐少聰) was quoted as saying Panai was holding the microphone and giving orders and therefore held responsible.

Residents of the Sanying Community in Taipei County and the Saowac and Kanjin Communities in Taoyuan County and supporters went to the Zhongshan Police Station in Taipei yesterday to turn themselves in for participating in the March protest. The police accepted a list of 50 people who said they would voluntarily surrender to police.

These cases represent an ongoing attack by the government on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. I earlier wrote an article arguing that freedom of assembly is a basic right. The Parade and Assembly Law is unconstitutional and must be abolished. For as long as this law exists Taiwanese people cannot enjoy 100% freedom of speech.

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