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Watchdog still concerned about media interference

By Loa Iok-sin
Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 1

Despite President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) denial in a letter to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the international press freedom watchdog is concerned that the independence of the nation’s media is threatened and has urged the Ma government to refrain from manipulating the media.

“Taiwan should be a press freedom model in Asia and the independence of the public media is one of the key components of a free and diverse press system,” the group said in a statement released on Wednesday. “We want to believe in President Ma’s promises, but they must be translated into action.”

RSF was responding to a letter that Ma wrote to its secretary-general, Jean-Francois Julliard.

In October, Julliard condemned the Ma administration for attempting to control the media by calling reporters to ask them to rewrite news stories and then appointing party supporters to management positions at state-owned media outlets.

Radio Taiwan International (RTI) chairman Cheng Yu (鄭優) offered his resignation on Oct. 1 in protest against interference by the Government Information Office (GIO).

Later, the Central News Agency’s (CNA) deputy editor-in-chief Chuang Feng-chia (莊豐嘉) resigned. In an open letter issued on Oct. 8, Chuang said the agency’s reporters were being asked by CNA chairman Chen Shen-ching (陳申青) to withdraw reports critical of Ma and his administration.

Ma rebutted the accusations in a letter to Julliard.

“We believe that accusations of this administration’s interference in Taiwan’s media are based on some wrong information or misunderstandings,” Ma wrote in the letter.

Ma went on to say in the letter that the government “will never attempt to control or interfere in the activities in the media” and added the government “is fully aware of the indispensable role that freedom of the press has played in the consolidation of our democracy.”

However, recent disputes at Public Television System (PTS) have again raised concerns on the independence of the publicly owned media in Taiwan.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus, with endorsement of caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世), proposed a case-by-case review of PTS program budgets by the GIO and froze half of the PTS budget for next year.

The chairman and 10 other senior members of the Public Television Service Foundation — which oversees the PTS, Hakka Television, Indigenous Television and China Television Service — issued a statement last week condemning the KMT for attempting to control the media and called for their independence to be guaranteed.

RSF supported their view.

“Regardless of the political party debate, the media should have a favorable legislative and political environment,” the statement said. “We urge the president to order a probe into the various accusations of meddling and to set up mechanisms that guarantee media independence.”

The Presidential Office denied the accusations.

Presidential Office public relations director Eddy Tsai (蔡仲禮) told the Taipei Times via telephone that since TBS, RTI and CNA are partially funded by the government, “it’s reasonable for the Legislative Yuan to monitor their budgets — but never the actual program content.”

He said that Cheng had expressed his wish to resign as RTI chairman when Ma took office in May because of their different political ideologies, “but his resignation was not officially approved until the RTI board of directors officially met in October.”

Tsai confirmed that the GIO did contact state-owned media organizations, and that the GIO did so because it had received complaints or suggestions from the public.

“The GIO merely passed on the information to the media outlets and the media outlets actually found some of the suggestions useful,” he said.



Lawyer who helped Beijing’s evicted residents sent to jail

Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 1

A Chinese lawyer who defended residents forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for development was sentenced to two years in prison yesterday for obstructing official duties, her husband said.

Ni Yulan (倪玉蘭), 47, was arrested in April for allegedly assaulting a worker who, along with police, was trying to demolish her family’s house in an old neighborhood in central Beijing, her husband Dong Jiqin (董繼勤) said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was Ni who was assaulted when one of the workers hit her on the head with a brick.

Dong said his wife was sentenced to two years in prison at a two-and-a-half-hour, closed-door trial. He said she plans to appeal.

Ni had numerous run-ins with authorities after helping those whose homes in Beijing were being demolished to make way for development for the Olympics, Human Rights Watch said. Dong said Ni was beaten by police during her latest detention.



Ma must clarify his role: group

OFF THE BEATEN PATH: The KMT has strayed from the principles of democracy since winning both the presidential and legislative elections, a Taipei Society member said

By Mo Yan-chih
Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 3

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should clarify his duties as president, sack his premier and abandon economic policies that ignore China’s military threat, a group of academics said yesterday.

The Taipei Society, a civic group perceived as pro-independence, challenged the president over his performance on the economy, national sovereignty and human rights since taking office in May.

The group also presented several suggestions to the Ma administration.

Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), a senior member of the group and a sociology professor at National Chengchi University, expressed concern that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was leading the nation back to a “party-state” government.

The KMT was straying from the principles of democracy since winning both the presidential and legislative elections earlier this year, Ku said.

Ku urged Ma and the KMT to establish a mechanism to guarantee responsible politics with the public’s interests in mind.

“Judging from the legislature’s performance in recent months, the KMT failed to take advantage of its majority in the legislature to pass laws that would benefit the public,” Ku told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.

In addition to stalling sunshine laws, the KMT allowed the four agreements on cross-strait sea transport, flights and postal services as well as food safety signed by the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) to escape a legislative vote, he said.

The agreements took effect by default after the deadline for a legislative review passed.

“The KMT is abandoning its duties and obligations in the legislature, and this is a violation of constitutional politics ... If the Ma administration and the KMT continues to abuse power, the party may suffer in the upcoming elections,” he said.

Academia Sinica research fellow Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源) said that Ma had failed to clarify his duties as president, had interfered with the Cabinet’s decision-making process and had failed to establish a full advisory mechanism to hear differing opinions on important issues.

Another executive member of the group, Lu Shih-hsiang (盧世祥) said Ma’s policies would make the nation’s economy too dependent on China, which flatly ignored the military threat posed by Taiwan’s rival across the Strait.

The group also said Ma had failed to stand up for freedom of assembly during the protests against ARATS Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) in October.

In addition, his rejection of a proposed visit by the Dalai Lama had hurt the nation’s human rights image, they said.

The president should replace Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), the group said, and allow his replacement to form a new Cabinet, abandon pro-China policies and ensure that the government does not interfere in the media.

It also called for a meeting between Ma and Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to push for social and political reconciliation.



Former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Hsiao Bi-khim tells police outside the Taipei District Court yesterday that her bike was stolen while she was inside demanding the release of former National Security Council secretary-general Chiou I-jen.




No decision on Tibetans’ demands

By Loa Iok-sin
Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 3

Tibetans living in exile in Taiwan and officials from several government institutions failed to reach a conclusion yesterday during their first meeting on the group’s status in the country.

Taiwan Tibetan Welfare Association chairman Jamga, secretary-general Lobsang Tenpa — both of whom have obtained Taiwanese citizenship — and a Tibetan introduced as “Abu” who entered the country on a forged Indian passport six years ago, met with officials from the National Immigration Agency (NIA), the Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Mainland Affairs Council at NIA headquarters in Taipei yesterday.

Since last week, more than 100 Tibetans living in Taiwan who entered the country on forged passports have staged a sit-in demonstration at Liberty Square, asking the government for asylum.

Lobsang said he had told the meeting that the demonstrators “have nowhere to go; they don’t have legal residency in Taiwan, they can’t get jobs because of that, but they cannot be sent back to India [or Nepal] since they held forged passports.”

“Something has to be done,” he said.

Lobsang recounted the story of a Tibetan named Shirap who used to live in Taiwan and was only allowed to return to India last year with some difficulty because of his forged travel documents.

“He wanted to see his family in India because he was discovered to have serious cancer, and only had about six months left,” he said. “But as soon as he set foot on Indian soil, he was locked up for using a forged passport and died in prison.”

The Tibetans were invited to present their demands during the first part of the meeting, while the second part was reserved for government officials.

Lobsang said that many Tibetans had come to Taiwan because the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission [MTAC] used to recruit Tibetan refugees in India to come to Taiwan.

“The policy discontinued sometime after 2000, but the word was already out and a lot of us had the misconception that since there’s an MTAC, the government of Taiwan would take good care of us,” he said.

“If we had known this [had changed], we would’ve gone to the US, Canada or some countries in Europe where we could get legal residency as refugees,” he said.

Lobsang said that in some Western countries, Tibetans could be granted asylum as long as they had a document proving their identity issued by the Tibetan government in exile, “even if they had forged passports.”

No conclusion as to the Tibetan’s demands was reached at yesterday’s meeting.

“The main purpose of today’s meeting was only to hear what [the Tibetans] had to say. We couldn’t have made any decision, since none of the officials with the power to make decisions took part in the meeting,” an NIA official said on condition of anonymity.



Taiwan must fight to keep democracy: ex-UN official

COUNTING BLESSINGS: Youth must learn to appreciate the freedoms they enjoy today, especially compared with the Chinese, ex-UN human rights official Nisuke Ando said

By Jenny W. Hsu
Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 3

Former UN Human Rights Commission chairman Nisuke Ando praised Taiwan as a model of democracy for China and said the public must pressure the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration not to return the country to the totalitarian system of the White Terror period.

Ando was among several international human rights advocates to speak at the International Human Rights Conference in Kaohsiung on Wednesday last week, the 60th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


“The reason why I accepted the invitation was to send a message to the Taiwanese people that they must watch the current government carefully to make sure [that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)] does not revert back to the Chiang Kai-shek [蔣介石] period,” Ando said in an interview with the Taipei Times one day after the conference.

Ando recalled a visit he made to Taiwan in 1968.

He said he was stopped at customs by authorities who checked his belongings thoroughly to make sure he had not brought any Japanese newspapers.


When Japan lost sovereignty over Taiwan, the Taiwanese thought Chiang’s KMT was coming to liberate them from colonial domination, he said, “but the exact opposite happened.”

Ando said many Taiwanese were still disillusioned with the KMT.

“Of course Ma was elected by the Taiwanese people, but if he starts to suppress personal liberty and [other freedoms], I am very much against it,” Ando said.

In the last presidential election, voters chose to change the party in power. That switch represented the essence of democracy, Ando said, which is that the public can pressure the government to change.

If the government does not change, voters can change the government through peaceful means, he said.

“Taiwan’s direct and open elections serve as a model of democracy for China. This is why Ma, by any means, must never turn back,” Ando said.


The public, he said, must shoulder the responsibility of protecting their freedoms by keeping a close watch on the government and voicing anger and dissatisfaction in peaceful ways, such as by voting.

Asked what Ando thought about critics who say Ma has not shown backbone in dealing with Beijing and is damaging the nation’s sovereignty, Ando said: “Reconciliation is necessary, especially in international politics, but Ma must never lose sight of the essence of [the] democratic achievements Taiwan has accomplished.”


There are ways for Taiwan to maintain relations with China without sacrificing its independence, he said, adding that Taiwan, according to the definition outlined by the UN and in various international laws, constituted an independent country.

Taiwan’s exclusion from the UN is not a legal issue but a political issue, Ando said.

The key is persuading China to allow Taiwan to participate, since Beijing is the biggest roadblock to involvement in the international community.

He said it would be extremely difficult for Taiwan to be accepted as a full member at the UN and other major international organizations unless Taipei somehow persuaded Beijing to allow it, or agreed to become a “special administrative region” like Hong Kong and Macau, which would be “totally unacceptable” to most Taiwanese.


The solution to the dilemma, he said, is for Taiwan to be patient and continue to show the world the fruits of its democratization.

Eventually, “the facts will prevail,” he said.

Taiwan’s youth, he said, must also learn to appreciate freedom and the system they enjoy today, especially compared with young people in China.

Ando said that Taiwan should also use non-governmental organizations that do humanitarian work to help change the hearts and minds of the people across the Taiwan Strait, he said.





An appropriate presenter

Many thanks to the Taipei Times for your extensive coverage of the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award ceremony (“Ma heckled by protesters during award ceremony,” Dec. 11, page 1).

We certainly hoped that this event, honoring the great achievements of Dr Sima Samar, would be a fitting way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and thus to raise human rights consciousness in our country.

However, we do not find it ironic that we invited President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to present the award (“Ma’s ironic Human Rights Day,” Dec. 11, page 8).

On the contrary, we are proud that he agreed to present the award in person, continuing a tradition that we established over the previous two years with former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

As a national foundation, we believe that it is most appropriate to invite the head of state to present our flagship award. The fact that presidents from both major parties have participated symbolizes the commitment of Taiwan as a whole to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Asia. Naturally, this also provides the maximum honor for the award laureates, who are people of the highest international esteem.

We plan to continue down this road in order that Taiwan can be more fully integrated in the international democratic community, and we hope for more and deeper participation from the public and the media in these efforts.

Lin Wen-cheng
Taiwan Foundation
for Democracy



Chen’s trial is the judiciary’s trial

Friday, Dec 19, 2008, Page 8

On Friday, following the conclusion of investigations by the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) under the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) were indicted on corruption charges, including embezzlement from the state affairs fund, with the prosecution calling for heavy penalties.

This was the first time in the history of Taiwan that a former president has been indicted on charges of corruption or any other offense.

The charges include misuse of the fund, money laundering overseas, corruption in relation to the purchase of land for the Hsinchu Science Park extension at Longtan (龍潭), tender rigging for the construction of the Nangang Exhibition Hall and other matters.

The SIP investigation has taken several months and 14 people stand accused, including the former president and several members of his family.

The case has attracted a great deal of attention at home and abroad, and is causing serious political and social repercussions.

The case is a genuine test for Taiwan, whose democracy and rule of law are relatively new phenomena.

The test will be all the more severe now that the SIP has completed its investigation and taken the case to the next stage by bringing charges against Chen.

It is to be hoped that the judiciary will handle the case fairly and without interference, avoiding the kinds of prejudicial actions that have caused so many people to doubt the fairness of the investigation. Only a fair trial can salvage what little faith the public retains in our judicial system.

Chen was named as a suspect in the investigation as soon as he stepped down from office. He stands accused of corruptly abusing the power entrusted to him by the public.

Whether he is guilty as charged is a matter for the court to decide.

But the fact that Chen has been arrested and indicted is a significant development for our democracy, in that it seemingly demonstrates that a former president is no less accountable before the law than any other citizen.

Not long ago, Taiwan was governed by an authoritarian system in which the president was a supreme ruler whose status and power was akin to that of an emperor.

In those days, the president did not rise to power through a genuinely democratic process. He held dictatorial powers and was the object of a personality cult.

No one would dare to expose or investigate the head of such a regime on suspicion of abuse of power or corruption.

The accusations and charges that have now been brought against a former president are a reminder of how easy it is for a head of state to abuse power for his own profit.

More importantly, however, they highlight the fact that the presidency is not a job for life, and the actions of a president, serving or retired, are not above the law.

Prosecutors claim to have gathered conclusive evidence that the accused in this case are guilty of illegal activites.

But this does not mean that a conclusion can been reached at this time on the guilt or innocence of the former president.

The prosecution and defense have the opportunity to present arguments from which the truth of the matter should be determined in a fair, impartial and independent hearing.

Until that time, Chen’s status remains the same as that of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) when he was charged in February last year with misusing his special allowance during his term as Taipei mayor — that is to say, Chen must be presumed innocent and guaranteed the right to a fair trial.

The conduct of the forthcoming trial will be a key indicator of whether Taiwan is maturing into a genuinely democratic society in which the rule of law prevails.

Above all, there must be no repeat of the unjust and at times blatantly unlawful practices that have characterized the SIP’s investigation of this case, a problem that has provoked a great deal of concern and criticism at home and abroad.

If such incidents occur again, the judiciary will have failed in its role as the final line of defense for a just society, signifying a considerable setback for Taiwan’s democracy and the rule of law — possibly even their collapse.

There has been widespread criticism of deviations from legal and democratic norms — and sometimes outright and malicious breaches of the law — that occurred time and time again in the course of the investigation.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) states that criminal investigations are to be conducted in secret, yet the media have reported extensively on the investigation’s progress and revealed many details of the case.

What explanation can there be for this other than that those handling the case leaked confidential information or, as many suspect, that the SIP has been working hand in hand with a politicized media?

The investigation has been so open that a well-known television commentator was able to announce the date that it would finish.

No less serious is the fact that President Ma labeled his predecessor the “Ferdinand Marcos of Taiwan” at the beginning of the investigation, while Minister of Justice Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) has been acting like a media hack with public comments on an ongoing case. Both are blatant examples of political interference.

Responding promptly to every cue from its political masters, the SIP set itself the goal of completing the investigation before year’s end.

Most seriously, Chen was detained immediately after being called in for questioning and was handcuffed while being transported between the court and the detention center.

This practice was in stark contrast to the treatment given to President Ma when he was indicted last year. Ma was neither detained nor cuffed, nor was he forbidden to travel abroad as Chen has been.

It is not surprising that many people have complained about double standards in the handling of the two cases, even if the letter of the law was applied.

The fact that there has been a series of corruption probes involving politicians associated with Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and hardly any against members of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) points to political bias and has further undermined confidence in the judiciary.

There has also been much criticism of what many perceive as unlawful acts and infringements of human rights by officials in these cases, including the de facto presumption of guilt before trial and the excessive use of pre-trial detention, possibly as a means of extracting confessions.

Because the investigation of the Chen case has been expedited, many of the amounts of money allegedly involved in corrupt transactions were not specified in the indictment, suggesting that the SIP was more concerned with getting the indictment finished on time than on doing a proper job.

After an investigation in which the SIP departed from its pledge to handle the case impartially, the forthcoming trial will be a chance for the judiciary to recover dwindling public confidence.

Chen’s guilt or innocence must be arrived at based on the evidence and through the independent and impartial cross-examination of witnesses by both the prosecution and the defense.

Only in this way will the public’s desire for justice be satisfied and its confidence in the judiciary restored.

We expect and demand a just outcome, and we will keep a close eye on the trial as it unfolds.

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