Taiwan steady in Freedom House rankings

Freedom in the World 2001 map of Asia

Freedom House released its Freedom in the World 2011 report yesterday. The report’s key finding was that freedom declined globally for the fifth consecutive year. Freedom House noted that authoritarian regimes like those in China, Egypt, Iran, Russia, and Venezuela continued to step up repressive measures with little significant resistance from the democratic world.

Taiwan’s ranking was unchanged from last year. Taiwan scored one for political rights and two for civil liberties to retain its status as “free”. Taiwan’s scores were the same as South Korea and Japan. The Taipei Times has some comments about Taiwan from a researcher at Freedom House.

“Taiwan remained one of Asia’s strongest democracies,” Sarah Cook, Asia research analyst and assistant editor at Freedom House, told the Taipei Times by e-mail yesterday.

“Municipal elections held [on Nov. 27] were widely viewed as free and fair, despite a shooting at a rally the evening before the polls,” Cook said. Continue reading

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.” Continue reading

Taiwan press freedom declines: report

Reporters Without Borders 2009 report on world press freedom ranked Taiwan 59th in the world. This was a significant drop from Taiwan’s ranking of 36th in 2008.

Japan was the leading country in Asia ranked 17th. Reporters Without Borders noted that both South Korea, at 69th, and Taiwan had fallen in the rankings this year. Regarding Taiwan it wrote, “The new ruling party in Taiwan tried to interfere in state and privately-owned media while violence by certain activists further undermined press freedom.”

Reporters Without Borders’ website contains two reports expressing concern about problems with Taiwan’s media in the past twelve months. In November 2008 at least ten journalists were injured in protests over the visit of Chinese official Chen Yunlin. It is important to note that several journalists were injured or interfered with by police or security guards, it was not just the result of the actions of protesters. In December concerns were raised over government interference in public media, including Radio Taiwan International, the Central News Agency and Public Television Service.

Earlier this year Taiwan’s ranking also fell in Freedom House’s 2009 Freedom of the Press report. Although Freedom House still classified Taiwan’s media as free.

Update: The Taipei Times has an article with quotes from GIO Minister Su Jun-pin (蘇俊賓).

Government undermines promotion of democracy

The Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (台灣民主基金會; TFD) is in the news for all the wrong reasons. There are concerns that direct intervention by the Presidential Office in the TFD’s affairs are undermining its work to promote democracy and human rights.

TFD was established in 2003 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and is modelled on the US National Endowment for Democracy. Although it receives much of its funding from the government it operates with a high degree of autonomy. The TFD is probably most well known for its annual Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award. The foundation has numerous programs to promote democracy in Asia through education, research and cooperation with NGOs. In January 2009 the TFD hosted the release of Freedom House’s annual report in Taipei.

Last week the Taiwan News reported that former KMT lawmaker Huang Te-fu was appointed to replace Lin Wen-cheng as the chief executive of the TFD. The change was pushed through by Su Chi, chief of the National Security Council and a key adviser to President Ma. This was contrary to ordinary practice where MOFA would submit a list to the Chairman of the TFD, Wang Jin-pyng who is the Speaker of the Legislative Yuan. Continue reading

Freedom House reports declining media freedom

global-press-freedom-2009

Freedom House has just released its annual report on media freedom. The report showed press freedom declining for the seventh straight year. Taiwan’s media freedom declined slightly. It previously had the freest media in Asia, but now ranks second behind Japan.

The survey gives countries a score between zero and 100. The lower the score the more free that country’s media is. In 2008 Taiwan ranked 32nd in the world with a score of 20. In 2009 Taiwan slipped back to 43rd with a score of 23. Freedom House noted, “Media in Taiwan faced assault and growing government pressure.” Taiwan’s media is still classified as “Free”. Freedom House notes that declines in Taiwan, Italy and Israel illustrate that established democracies with traditionally open media are not immune to restricting media freedom. Continue reading

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). Continue reading

Freedom House sounds a warning

More than a month has passed since Freedom House released its annual report in Taipei. Freedom House’s report on the state of political rights and civil liberties did not make any changes to Taiwan’s score based on events that happened during 2008. However, the staff of Freedom House did express concern and said, “2009 is really a critical year for Taiwan in our evaluation.”

Freedom House did not escape criticism for its evaluation from within Taiwan. Michael Turton labelled their report, “A missed opportunity, and absolutely shameful” for its failure to censure the government over the events that occurred in the latter half of 2008. A Taiwan News editorial (15 January 2009) also noted, “it is quite possible that Freedom House’s decision to refrain from even delivering a symbolic wrist slap… will foster a sense of impunity among KMT leadership ranks”. Continue reading

Freedom House report released in Taipei

Freedom House Map of Freedom for Asia in 2009. Green represents free, yellow partly free and purple not free.

Freedom House released its Freedom in the World 2009 report with a press conference at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei today. The event was hosted by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. The 2009 report found a decline in global freedom for the third consecutive year. Sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet states were the regions that saw the greatest decline. There was some improvement in freedom in South Asia.

Freedom House’s rankings are based on assessments of political rights and civil liberties. Scores range from one to seven with one being the most free. The average of the score for political rights and civil liberties determines whether a country is classified as free, partly free or not free. Countries such as Finland and Sweden rate the highest with scores of one for both categories. Sudan, Burma and North Korea rank the lowest with scores of seven in both categories. More details of the rankings for each country can be downloaded from Freedom House’s website. Taiwan’s score was the same as last year with a score of two for political rights and one for civil liberties for an overall rating of “free”. Continue reading