Letter to Human Rights Watch
Readers are encouraged to use the letter provided below, or to write their own, and to contact human rights organization so that pressure can be applied on the Taiwanese government following its abuses of power during the visit of ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin last week (photos from journalist Michella Jade Weng's blog Alive and Kicking [Warning: graphic content]).
Human Rights Watch — Asia
Please allow me to draw the attention of your esteemed organization to recent developments in Taiwan.
With unprecedented (at least since the end of the Martial Law era) police deployments to “ensure security” for visiting Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin last week, many human rights violations were committed by the state. Freedom of speech, expression and assembly were seriously undermined, with individuals arrested for displaying the national and Tibet flag or other symbols of nationhood.
Among a long list of state-sponsored infractions, a music store in downtown Taipei was forced to close its doors for playing Taiwanese music. On Nov. 3, a 34-year-old woman was injured when police pried a Tibetan flag from her hands before arresting her and two other women for “assembling” close to Taipei Grand Hotel, where Chen was staying. On Nov. 5, a French national was taken away by police for shouting “Taiwan is not part of China.”
Using the outdated Parade and Assembly Law during Chen’s visit, Taipei deployed about 7,000 police officers, erected barbed wire and gates to block access to various parts of the city and at venues frequented by Chen and his delegation. While the great majority of protesters who took part in the numerous protests held last week expressed their views in a peaceful and orderly manner, when clashes did occur, police authorities often reacted with unnecessary strength, using batons and other riot equipment. Several injuries have been reported, involving civilians, members of the press and representatives of opposition parties.
Freedom of the press was also severely undermined, with numerous complaints by foreign reporters who had received proper accreditation that they could not access key venues where Chen held meetings with his Taiwanese counterparts. The Association of Taiwanese Journalists (ATJ) and the Taipei Foreign Correspondents’ Club (TFCC) have gone on record in their condemnation of those curtailments. In addition, secret scheduling and last-minute changes to scheduled events meant that on a number of occasions, reporters were forced to follow developments on television and could not cover the events in a manner that is consistent with a free and open society.
There have also been reports of police violence against the media — even when journalists were within designated press areas, which on some occasions were changed without prior notice — and a documentary filmmaker was taken away by law enforcement authorities for filming Chen’s car at Taipei Grand Hotel. A photojournalist affiliated with Central News Agency (CNA) was reportedly dragged away by police at Taipei Grand Hotel.
Taiwanese flags were removed from most government buildings so that Chen would not have to see them, a belittling of the nation’s status by both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and Beijing that not only went against people’s right to self-determination as stipulated by the UN Charter, but also prompted the protests and the escalation that ensued.
Starting on Nov. 6, hundreds of students gathered in front of the Executive Yuan building to protest the use and abuse of the Parade and Assembly Law by the Ma administration and ask that the law be amended to reflect democratic principles. Early in the evening of Nov. 7, police forcibly removed the students and put them on police buses.
While the Ma Ying-jeou administration has portrayed Chen’s visit as a success in cross-strait negotiations, many Taiwanese fear that he is “selling out” the country to China and undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty. The lack of media access only served to exacerbate those fears. Regardless of whether protesters are justified in this belief or not, they should be allowed to express their views and not live in fear of state oppression when they seek to express their discontent at decisions that are being made with lack of transparency, little legislative oversight and with handicapped media supervision. They should also be allowed to express their anger, through protests, when a senior representative of a state that denies their existence, threatens them with more than 1,300 missiles, simulates military invasions, passes an “Anti-Secession” Law that “legalizes” the use of force should the island declare formal independence, and isolates them internationally, visits their country.
Demonstrators were afraid, on edge for the arbitrariness of arrests and unclear rules that accompanied the enactment of the Parade and Assembly Law by the government. As a result, there has been growing apprehension of a return to authoritarian rule and politically motivated arrests, which Taiwanese fought off with sweat and blood from 1949-1989.
Various local organizations, bloggers, academics and media outlets have sought to expose the crimes of the Ma administration and law-enforcement authorities, but sadly, the timing of Chen’s visit, which coincided with the Nov. 4 presidential election in the United States, added to spin by Beijing- and KMT-controlled media, have severely undermined the ability of Taiwanese to make their voice heard in international media.
I therefore strongly urge HRW to investigate the matter and, if appropriate, to bring pressure on the government in Taipei.