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Freedom House downgrades Taiwan's civil liberties rating

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Washington, Jan. 12 (CNA) Taiwan has maintained its status as one of the world's freest countries, but its score for civil liberties were downgraded over flaws in protection of criminal defendants' rights, according to a report released by Freedom House on Tuesday.
While Taiwan's overall rating in the Freedom House's 2010 report was same as in 2009, its score for political rights advanced from grade 2 to grade 1 because of an increased crackdown on corruption.
On the other hand, Taiwan's score for civil liberties declined from grade 1 to grade 2 due to flaws in the protection of criminal defendants' rights as evidenced in the handling of corruption scandals involving former President Chen Shui-bian and his close aides.
In an interview with the Central News Agency the same day, Arch Puddington, director of Freedom House's research department, said Taiwan has generally performed well in promoting political freedom and deserved praise as one of "democracy's stars" in East Asia. Flaws in the handling of corruption cases of the former president led to concerns, however, that Taiwan's rule of law "may be twisted a bit," he said.
The Washington-based human rights watchdog body wrote in its 2010 report: "In Taiwan, increased government efforts to enforce anticorruption laws were marred by flaws in the protection of criminal defendants' rights, and new legislation restricting the political expression of academics." It said the decline in Taiwan's civil liberties rating was "due to flaws in the protection of criminal defendants' rights that were exposed during the 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 facilites from participating in certain political activities." It also said that 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' election owing to vote-buying, and the investigation of over 200 candidates for alleged vote-buying in local elections." Freedom House has issued a "Freedom in the World" report annually since 1972. The report evaluates a country's degree of freedom based on two indicators -- political rights and civil liberties -- with each measured on a grade one-to-seven scale.
Of the 194 countries surveyed in the 2010 report, 89 are listed as "free," 58 "partly free" and 47 "not free." Of 14 other disputed or trust territories, Puerto Rico received the best score for both indicators while Tibet got the worst score for both.
(By Zep Hu and Sofia Wu)