• Directory of Taiwan

US calls out Taiwan's defamation law in annual human rights report

2020 Human Rights Report takes issue with Taiwan over libel, corruption while acknowledging its human rights successes

Taipei's Liberty Square.

Taipei's Liberty Square. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S. State Department on Tuesday (March 30) took issue with Taiwan's criminalization of speech that adversely affects reputation, among a few other issues, while lauding the country's respect for liberal values such as an open political process.

The 2020 "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Human Rights Reports)" present the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's assessments of the state of human rights in all member states of the U.N. as well as Taiwan, which has been excluded from that body since 1971.

The annual reports encompass political, civil, and personal rights covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements.

The roughly 8,000-word report on Taiwan was largely positive toward the nation in the sections related to due process, treatment of prisoners, government transparency, academic freedom, and the freedoms of religion, assembly, and the press.

However, it pointed out that that libel/slander is a criminal offense, referring to Article 310 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of China, which states that those convicted of stating or circulating a "fact which will injure the reputation of another for [the] purpose that it be communicated to the public" is guilty of slander and subject to a fine and sentence of up to a year, or two years in the case they disseminated "a writing or drawing."

The State Department wrote that Taiwan's relatively loose interpretation of libel puts journalists at increased risk of legal action and noted that reporters have also been targeted by online bullying.

The report raised the additional issue of corruption, listing recent examples of politicians prosecuted for accepting bribes. It also cited legal experts who said the "justice ministry was insufficiently independent and conducted politically motivated investigations of politicians."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday (March 31) responded to the report, saying it has "always attached importance to the protection of basic human rights," such as personal freedom and freedom of speech. It noted that the report affirms Taiwan's free elections and protection of press freedom while acknowledging that its American counterpart was concerned about the country's criminalization of defamation and insults.

The ministry said it has forwarded the issues brought up in the document to the "relevant domestic authorities" and will address them in the future.