15 Nov 2008

[Rationale] Why President Ma and Premier Liu Should Issue an Apology

The first appeal made by the Wild Strawberries Movement is for President Ma and Premier Liu to take responsibility and apologize for the blatant civil rights infringement during the ARATS Chairman (Chen Yun Lin) visit. What is the basis for such demand?

While we whole-heartedly agree that the government must provide adequate protective detail to ensure Mr. Chen's safety, especially given the alleged attack of ARATS Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing during his visit. However, we also firmly believe that law enforcement tactics extended beyond protective details. Not only have these extreme security measures threatened Taiwanese citizens' civil rights, upset the balance of law and order, but more importantly, endangered our democratic nation. Simply put, a government must answer to the highest law of our land, the Constitution.

Let us evaluate the so called "security measures" over the past few days: (1) clearing and monitoring all major highways; (2) banning any public displays of our national flag; (3) censoring citizens who proclaim "Taiwan is not a part of China"; (4) confiscating private properties including flags and display signs, and (5) the continued inability of Secretary Minister Hsueh Hsiang-Chuan to explain the reasoning behind forcibly shutting down a privately owned business, Sunrise Record Store. The aforementioned activities clearly demonstrate the oppression of freedom of speech in an effort to welcome Mr. Chen, posing a severe threat to our constitution and our hard-earned freedom and democracy. While we recognize the importance of ensuring the safety of any foreign dignitaries visiting Taiwan, we challenge the notion that everyday citizens with digital video camcorders filming Mr. Chen's motorcade would endanger his safety. Moreover, we question the danger of waving our national flag in public areas. The heightened and over-reactive security measures throughout Mr. Chen's visit illustrated a government, designed to protect and guarantee its citizens' fundamental human rights, became an oppressive entity which deprived its citizens of life, liberty and property and disregarded the right to assemble. By sacrificing the diversity and freedom of speech in our multidimensional society, we have paid the hefty price of undermining Taiwan's democratic constitutional government.

Even prior to Mr. Chen's visit, there were signs that Taiwanese people was not unanimous in welcoming such a visit, not to mention lingering doubts regarding an earlier meeting between SEF Chairman Chiang and Mr. Chen. We question the government's reluctance to allow dissenting voices practice their freedom of speech and more importantly, the censorship of such dissenting voices. If the Taiwanese government had allowed its diverse citizens to freely express their opinions through legal and already established means, we believe violent clashes and civil rights violations would not have occurred.

If the President decides to view the aforementioned examples of power abuse as separate and unrelated incidents, he would be ignoring a systemic and prevalent issue that exists within our system. Inevitably, this would lead to a gradual dissipation of freedom and democracy in Taiwan, and an end to the established law and order. As such, we believe that the President and Premier, who are tasked with protecting our constitutional rights, should be held responsible.

Since its inception over a week ago, the Wild Strawberries Movement has not received any direct reply from the government. During an interview with a television network, President Ma indicated that police brutality was an isolated incident and does not plan to issue a formal apology to the people of Taiwan. Moreover, Premier Liu stated in another interview that “the Wild Strawberries Movement does not represent majority opinion in Taiwan."

However, we believe the fact that the restriction of freedom and excessive law enforcement tactics were systematic, clearly organized, and concentrated in certain areas illustrate these measurements of control were not accidental and certainly should not be viewed as isolated incidents. Moreover, the statement that The Wild Strawberries Movement is not representative of majority opinion fails to address the legality of the government’s recent actions. We deeply regret Premier Liu’s refusal to address the civil rights violations and the power abuse considering that a government’s legitimacy should not be solely based on “majority opinion” and that dissenting voices, however debatedly minority voices, must also be heard. Once again, Premier Liu’s response has shown the government’s blatant disregard for freedom of speech.

We sincerely hope that the government can properly evaluate the constitutionality of its actions during Mr. Chen's visit and respond to our appeals directly. Our memories of President Ma (as a President-Elect in April of this year) promising to the now deceased human rights activist Po Yang that he will be dedicated to the preservation and protection of human rights remains fresh. "Human Rights as a Cornerstone of Nation-Building" should not be a mere slogan, and we are optimistic that President Ma and Premier Liu will have the courage and wisdom to respond directly to the appeals of the sit-in students.

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