November 20, 2008
Freedom House urges Taiwan's government to create an independent commission to thoroughly investigate clashes between police and activists protesting Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin's historic visit and recommend needed reforms.
"A public investigation of the violence—which involved both sides—will send a critical message that the new government of President Ma Ying-jeou is interested in upholding the democratic values of transparency and accountability," said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House executive director. "The inquiry should examine evidence on both sides and recommend any needed reforms to police practices and the legal framework governing demonstrations."
Hundreds of university students are currently staging a sit-in in Taipei's Freedom Square and several other cities to protest the government's handling of the incident. During Chen’s visit, police reportedly used heavy-handed tactics—including physical assault, arbitrary detention and destruction of property—to prevent Chen from seeing symbols of Taiwanese or Tibetan independence, as well as broader demonstrations against the Chinese regime. Demonstrators also employed violence against police, throwing rocks and petrol bombs outside Chen's hotel on November 6.
The clashes reveal a need for police to undergo crowd control training that adheres to the standards used in other democracies. Likewise, demonstrators and political advocacy groups must recommit themselves to orderly protests that avoid violence under any circumstances.
The inquiry commission should examine controversial passages in Taiwan's Assembly and Parade Law, such as restrictions on where people are allowed to demonstrate, and determine whether they need to be liberalized to protect citizens' rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The commission should also investigate claims that police are selectively enforcing the law.
The visit by Chen, the most senior Chinese official to visit Taiwan since it split from China in 1949, and the recent arrests of several opposition party figures are raising concerns that that President Ma and his Kuomintang Party may rollback democratic freedoms.
"The government must renew its commitment to tolerating robust freedom of assembly and peaceful protest, no matter what the cause," said Windsor.
Taiwan is ranked Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press. (Original page)
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Taiwan since 1972.
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