Monday, August 26, 2013

Just so you know, we’re watching you

Police paid a visit to the father of a female lead singer on Sunday and not so subtly let him know that his daughter, who performed during the 816 rally in Miaoli, was on their radar screen

Police states and authoritarian regime often need not crack down on citizens to ensure “social order.” All they need to do is let the potentially restive citizenry — the targets themselves, or in traditional Confucian societies, the parents — that they’re being watched. In most cases, the implicit threat is sufficient to deter individuals from participating in social movements or to take action against the authorities.

Taiwan, of course, is not a police state, and it shed authoritarianism more than two decades ago. But even today, through a mix of antiquated regulations and a tendency among political leaders to occasionally dip their toes in the dark waters of past practices, incidents occur that should make us pause.

As I have written in previous posts, mostly in reference to the protests surrounding the July 18 forced evictions and demolitions in Dapu (大埔), Miaoli County, the government has in some instances resorted to questionable practices in its handling of public discontent. On a few occasions, “special zones” were created to separate protesters from senior Cabinet figures. Police have sometimes grabbed random individuals whose sole crime was to wear a red T-shit (a color often associated with the activists) and to be walking near an area where a protest was taking place. Law enforcement officers, sometimes unidentified, have been asking people to show their I.D. or the latter, refusing, risk being taken away. Journalists have on occasion seen their access denied, and in a few instances were physically removed by police or plainclothes officers. The National Security Bureau has become involved in countering the protests, and in Miaoli itself, the police force has acted more as a personal guard to the local despot and the man behind most of the controversies, County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hong (劉政鴻), than as a lawful guarantor of public safety.

Now, realizing that browbeating by politicians, hard measures by police and disproportionate fines and sentences by the courts are failing to break the movement apart, the government seems to have shifted tactic by letting a few key individuals know that they’re being watched. It’s too soon to tell whether what follows was simply a local initiative, or part of something more widespread. We’ll have to keep an eye out for these things.

On Sunday the father of Lala Lin (林羿含), the lead singer of the metal band Eye of Violence, was visited by police officers at his residence in Tainan and informed that his daughter, who had performed during the Aug. 16 rally in front of the Miaoli City Hall, was — how should we put it? — “on their radar screen.” In other words, they were aware of her “activities,” and she was being watched.

As Lin rightly pointed out, such “warnings” are usually reserved for individuals who actually pose a threat to society, such as juvenile delinquents, hooligans, or people who have committed major crimes. Apparently, showing solidarity with the residents of Dapu whose homes were demolished is now such a crime. We should note that this kind of police behavior also occurred ahead of the visit by then-Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in November 2008.

Of course, once this was made public, the National Police Administration had its explanations and maintained that this was a misunderstanding, that the visit to the Lin household was a show of “goodwill” to ensure “good communication” between law enforcement authorities and activists.


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