In Taiwan is it justifiable to be charged based on a law that is unconstitutional and being protested upon?
Let's take a closer look at the Assembly and Parade Act (APA 集會遊行法) that Prof. Lee was indicted for "violating"
The APA gives wide powers to police to disperse demonstrations and designate restricted areas, while making it compulsory for organizers to apply for permits. Human rights defenders, including students, academics and activists have strongly criticized the unconstitutionality of this law, deemed to have violated Taiwan's Constitution under Article 14, which states clearly that "The people have freedom of assembly and association".
Neither Mr. Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁) nor Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) should have to bear the personal burdens of an entire nation's concern, unless you welcome this unconstitutional law to become harsher.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR) have jointly called on Taiwan to respect and protect freedom of expression and freedom of assembly by dropping the charges against these two prominent human rights defenders and amending the Parade and Assembly Law in accordance to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified at the Legislative Yuan in March 2009.
Read Taiwan should drop charges against HRDs and amend parade and assembly law, Wed, 01/07/2009 - 12:00, FORUM-ASIA.
The indictment issued on May 15 by the Taipei District Prosecutors' Office, stated that Lee "is well aware that assembly and parades are prohibited without submitting an application in advance," but did not do so when he led hundreds of students and civic group members to the sit-in.
Meanwhile, the members of the Wild Strawberry Student Movement slammed the indictment of National Taiwan University sociology professor Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁) for allegedly violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) during a sit-in last November.
Read the entire news story, Wild Strawberries slam indictment of NTU professor, by Flora Wang and Shelley Huang, in the Taipei Times, Friday, June 12, 2009, Page 1.
More sneaky amendments to the APA underway
The latest version of the law makes sure that protesters do not only have to ask for approval beforehand but also gives the local police authority the power to alter approved parade routes, protest sizes, or finishing times wherever and whenever they see fit. This is going to be stricter than the law that existed during the Martial Law era. Read Upcoming protests against the latest KMT amendment of Parade & Assembly Law in Taiwan, April 26, 2009 from In Claudia Jean's Eyes.
Double standards by the Taipei police authority
Did the redshirt army movement in the fall of 2006 have permission to protest? At one point, when police denied permission for their protests, then-Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou overrode their decision and told police to approve the protests. In fact, Ma himself donned the redshirts' uniform and joined the protestors on more than one occasion.
Note what's behind the second link above:
Earlier yesterday morning, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) showed up briefly at the sit-in area and helped distribute 1,200 loaves of bread and bottles of soy milk to protesters. Wearing a red shirt, Ma led the crowd in shouting "A-bian Step Down!" in Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka.UPDATE: Compare that with Ma's current statements regarding "non-interference":
Ma said he had taken the opportunity to express the KMT's support for the protesters.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has rejected a plea by his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), to lift a court order that bars Chen's daughter from leaving the country.[/update]
"However, having been a president, Chen Shui-bian should understand that although being head of the Republic of China comes with much authority, [a president] still cannot intervene in the judiciary," Ma said on Thursday. "The decision [to lift the travel ban on Chen Hsing-yu] should be decided by the prosecutors or the court, not by me."
We don't need an APA in Taiwan
What Taiwan really needs is simply a process to register demonstrations with local police authorities rather than to apply for permission from the police, so that the local police authority will be informed of the gathering but will not have to make a decision on who or where or when to grant permission.
Currently, the police authorities often grant permission to pan-blue organized demonstrations while denying permission when the applications come from the pan-green camp.
Read Taiwanese Students Protest 'Parade and Assembly Law', from the China Digital Times.
Read Latest Parade & Assembly Law developments, from That's Impossible! Politics from Taiwan.
Read A breakthrough in human rights, by Peter Huang (黃文雄) in the Taipei Times, Wednesday, Apr 08, 2009, Page 8.
(Tim Maddog contributed to this post.)