Taiwan still free but problems with judicial rights: Freedom House report

Taiwan has maintained its status as free in Freedom House’s 2010 report released yesterday. Taiwan received the same score as last year but its score for civil liberties decreased from 1 to 2 while its score for political rights increased from 2 to 1. Taiwan’s score put it equal with Japan and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region.

Freedom House wrote that, “In Taiwan,  increased  government  efforts  to enforce anticorruption  laws were marred by flaws  in  the  protection  of  criminal defendants’  rights,  and  new  legislation restricted  the  political  expression  of academics.”

Freedom House said the improvement in Taiwan’s score for political rights  was “due  to enforcement of anticorruption  laws that  led to the prosecution of former high-ranking officials,  the annulment of several legislators’ elections  owing  to  vote-buying,  and  the  investigation  of  over  200  candidates  for  alleged  vote-buying in local elections.”

The decline in Taiwan’s  civil  liberties  rating  was  “due  to  flaws  in  the  protection  of  criminal defendants’ rights that were exposed during anticorruption prosecutions and a high-profile murder case, as well as a law that infringes on academic freedom by barring staff and scholars at public  educational facilities from participating in certain political activities.”

In January 2009 Freedom House released its annual report in Taipei. Back then there was considerable concern about problems with freedom of assembly as well as problems in the judicial process, particularly in Chen Shui-bian’s case.  At that time Freedom House’s Christopher Walker stated the events of the last part of 2008 were part of a larger process. Freedom House needed to have a comprehensive understanding of the whole process and the trial was still unfinished. The totality of the process would define how it was evaluated so 2009 will be a critical year. An informed judgment woud be made based on what happens in 2009.

I think that Freedom House has provided a good assessment of Taiwan’s situation. Taiwan’s electoral system is working well as evidenced by recent by-election results and my own observations of the referendum on Penghu. The areas were Taiwan needs to improve are reform of the judicial system, abolishing the Parade and Assembly Law and dealing with the KMT party assets. Unfortunately there has merely been some talk but very little action on these issues.

*Further details of the Freedom in the World 2010 report are available on the  Freedom House website at http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=505.