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KMT tosses gauntlet at Taiwan human rights

KMT tosses gauntlet at Taiwan human rights

Taiwan's eroding standard of civic and human rights faces a new threat from the restored rightist Kuomintang government under President Ma Ying-jeou in the form of regressive revisions to the already restrictive Assembly and Parade Law.
Last Friday, opposition Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers occupied the Legislative Yuan Speaker's podium and blocked passage of the KMT's proposed revisions, but the bill may be rammed through by the ruling party's three-fourths majority today over the protests of human rights, judicial reform and other civic and social groups and the DPP itself.
Demands for major liberalizing revisions to this bill, which was legislated in 1988 as one of the major "legal" control measures which replaced the 38-year-old martial law decree lifted in July 1987 intensified in the wake of the massive restrictions on organized demonstrations and the subsequent excessive use of police force against spontaneous protests against the visit by PRC envoy Chen Yunlin last November.
Unfortunately, as noted by the Taiwan Association for Human Rights yesterday, the KMT version of the revised statute falls far short of the expectations by civic and social reform organizations.
BREAKER: The wrong direction
The Cabinet's draft bill will drop the current requirement for the application of a parade permit, but will substitute a compulsory and highly restrictive advance notification system and is full of other features that will threaten to curtail the actual possibilities of citizens or civic organizations to exercise their right of assembly and protest.
Among the more unreasonable statutes include the imposition of an excessive 300 meter buffer zone between protestors and "restricted sites" such as the Office of the President, the Executive Yuan and all embassies or foreign representative offices.
Moreover, Article 9 may impose a prohibitive social cost on march organizers by requiring agreement in writing from "private locations" along a proposed route march must be submitted with the five-day advance march notification.
In addition, Article 10 requires that the "responsible person" reporting a planned rally cannot be less than 20 years of age, must have ROC citizenship, cannot have had previous convictions or be under probation or a police record or under guidance or counseling for juvenile offense or under guardianship.
Under this restriction, foreign workers would be effectively banned from protesting mistreatment or discrimination by employers, ex-convicts would be prohibited from holding a rally to call for changes in unfair rulings and persons under "guardianship" for physical or mental handicaps would be unable to protest the failure of public facilities or government policies to address their problems.
But these problems pale in light of Article 11, which grants the "responsible" law enforcement authorities the power at will to ban, restrict or change the course, location or time of any "reported" assembly or protest if police deem that the event will "immediately affect national security, social order or the public interest" or will immediately threaten lives, health or liberty or cause damage to property or if there is an overlap between different parades.
While an immediate threat to lives and health would justify police action, the vague language of "harm to national security, social order or the public interest" gives immense scope for abuse if law enforcement agencies or their political masters determine that a protest "violates national security or the public interest" as determined by the ruling party.
Moreover, the new "liberalized" draft bill contains a powerful weapon to stifle small or large protests in Article 26, which would allow the government to impose cumulative fines between NT$30,000-NT$150,000 on the "responsible persons" for marches which the police decide to ban if participants do not comply and to increase the fine repeatedly until the orders are obeyed.
The provision of accumulating massive fines if a rally does not obey the commands of police to disperse will undoubtedly intimidate many small groups from holding any assemblies at all and threatens to bankrupt any organization which dares to launch a major protest action.
It should be obvious that this new clause is directly aimed at the DPP, the Taiwan Solidarity Union and other "Taiwan-centric" organizations which could challenge the KMT government's tilt toward the authoritarian People's Republic of China with massive protests, such as the action to "safeguard jobs and sovereignty" on May 17.
Even a cursory review shows that these revisions are not aimed at facilitating but intend to trample on the right of assembly which is granted to all citizens under the ROC Constitution and to all people under the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights approved by the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan March 31 and promulgated by Ma last Wednesday.
Indeed, the unseemly haste of KMT legislators to secure the passage of this dangerous bill naturally gives to suspicions that the KMT intends to use these tools actively to ride roughshod over any protests to its pro-China policies and intimidate into silence any public voices angry over its incompetence.