FREEDOM OF SPEECH:Rights proponents accused the government of trying to prevent people from voicing their opinion with the threat of imprisonment
By Loa Iok-sin / Staff reporter
Police organize barricades outside government office buildings in Taipei yesterday.
A Ministry of the Interior proposal to use pre-emptive detention against protesters who have repeatedly broken the law during demonstrations yesterday came under fire from human rights advocates, who said that it could be a step toward restricting freedom of expression.
“The idea is ridiculous, because in a democracy it’s just normal for people to be out on the streets to voice their opinion,” said Frida Tsai (蔡培慧), spokeswoman for the Taiwan Rural Front, which has organized numerous street protests.
“Pre-emptive detention is designed for people who have actually committed a crime, not for people who are on the street to voice their opinion,” Tsai said.
She said that some protesters may have broken the law during demonstrations, but the police cannot assume that they will do the same in future demonstrations and detain them beforehand.
“I would like to remind the police that we are a democracy, and, as representatives of the state power on the first line, officers should always remember that their job is to serve the people,” she added.
Tsai was responding to a proposal made earlier this week by Deputy Minister of the Interior Jonathan Chen (陳純敬), who said that he would ask the police to keep an eye on “extremists” who have repeatedly engaged in unlawful conduct during demonstrations and to forward relevant information to prosecutors, making them potential targets for pre-emptive detention.
Calling the idea “absurd,” Taiwan Association for Human Rights president and lawyer Chiu Hsien-chih (邱顯智) accused the government of trying to suppress freedom of speech by threatening the public.
“Pre-emptive detention is commonly used against repeat offenders — and the Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) stipulates that the measure can only be used against offenders of specific crimes — to prevent them from repeating the crime. It is rarely used against protesters by governments around the world,” Chiu said.
“Moreover, I think it would be difficult for prosecutors to convince the judge to allow pre-emptive detention,” Chiu said.
Thomas Chan (詹順貴), a lawyer and long-time human rights and environmental activist, agreed, saying that he did not think pre-emptive detention could be used on protesters, since there is a set of strict regulations on how a person may be pre-emptively detained.