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Court questions constitutionality of Assembly Law

The Taipei District Court has suspended a case involving Lee Ming-tsung (李明聰), an NTU assistant professor and one of the initiators of the Wild Strawberry Movement (野草莓學運), who was charged under the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法). The judge said a constitutional interpretation of the law was necessary before a verdict could be made in the case. Taiwan Today reports:

The Taipei District Court has ordered the trial of a National Taiwan University academic charged with violating the Assembly and Parade Act halted pending constitutional interpretation of several articles contained within the law.

The court found that proceedings against Lee Ming-tsung, an assistant professor of sociology at NTU, could not continue as the act infringes on a citizen’s freedom of assembly, as enshrined in the ROC Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Focus Taiwan (CNA) has some translations from the Chinese-language press reports on the case. The Liberty Times reported on Lee’s reaction to the court’s decision.

Lee hailed Chen’s ruling, saying he was happier to see such as a decision than he would be if he were acquitted.

“The move marked a major step forward in our country’s democratic development and human rights protection, ” Lee said, adding that investigations or court hearings on all other cases involving alleged violations of the act should also be halted pending a Constitutional Court ruling on Chen’s application.

The Assembly Law was enacted in January 1988, only six months after Martial Law came to an end. It has been widely criticised by civil society groups for restricting freedom of speech and giving police too much power. The law came into the spotlight during the visit of Chinese official Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) to Taiwan in November 2008. The heavy handed tactics of the police during that time gave rise to the Wild Strawberry Movement. One of the movement’s key demands was to amend the Assembly Law which they claimed limited freedom of speech.

I have previously argued on this blog that freedom of assembly is a basic right and the Assembly Law attacks freedom of speech. A review of the Assembly Law is long overdue and all eyes will be on the Council of Grand Justices as they consider the constitutionality of the law. Substantial revision or abolition of Assembly Law is essential for the protection of freedom of speech in Taiwan.

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