Showing posts with label freedom_of_speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label freedom_of_speech. Show all posts

Sunday, May 26, 2019

I didn't need to yell at those bigots

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The future

I set out yesterday with two goals: to check out the inflatable 'tank man' (the iconic protester from the Tiananmen Square massacre) that has appeared in front of Murderous Dictator Memorial Hall as this is the 30th anniversary of those tragic events, and to get some reading done for my dissertation. My route took me through Freedom Square, where I encountered some anti-gay protesters near the arched Freedom Square gate.

They claimed to be against the new same-sex marriage law because it went against "the will of the people" as laid out in that messed-up referendum last November, but in truth, they were simply anti-gay. Here's how you can tell.

A woman shouting into a microphone made points like:

"We voted against gay marriage in the referendum. But they passed it anyway. I ask you - is this democracy?"

Of course, that's not what happened in the referendum. As black metal frontman and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim helpfully pointed out, the referendum didn't do that: it specifically (though unclearly) asked if people agreed with changing the civil code to allow same-sex couples to marry, or if that should be done by a separate law. The people voted not to change the civil code, but for 'the rights and interests of same-sex unions to be protected' (if I'm translating that right) through some other law. That is what the referendum questions said. Period, end of story, the end, buh-bye. They did not ask if we should not allow any kind of same-sex unions. 


When the government voted to allow same-sex couples to register their marriages (and make no mistake, they are marriages), they not only did so through a separate law just as the referendum asked them to, but even took out the word 'marriage' in one of the articles as a compromise in a bill that was already a compromise. The bill does say couples can register their "marriage" in another article, but...that is what they have, isn't it? What else would it even be called? What gives the anti-gay side the right to define that word?

In any case, a referendum does not supercede a decision by the highest court. When the legislators acted, they acted in keeping with the principles of democracy (as opposed to populism), in which all people are equal under the law, and no group can vote away the rights or equality of another group. I doubt those protesters were unaware of this.


So no, they're not angry about the referendum. That's an excuse, and not a very logical one. They're angry because they hate gays.

In any case, they were all over the age of 50 or so, and there were maybe 20 of them. So when that woman said "I ask you, is this democracy?" I shouted back "YES!" (all in Mandarin of course).

"Can the government do this?"

"THEY CAN!"

Her: "No they can't!"

Me: "You don't understand how referendums work!"

Her: "This isn't democracy!"

Me: "If you don't like equal rights, go to China!"


I may have also laughed loudly at them. (By "may have" I mean, I did.)



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So many more people than those angry folks at Freedom Square


Anyway, some very polite police officers came up asked me nicely not to do that, and recommended I go to Ketagalan Boulevard just down the road, where I hadn't realized there was a big, super fun, super gay banquet being prepared. I've been working on my dissertation, okay? I can't keep up with everything these days. Anyway, they were really nice about it, and didn't even take my name...probably because white privilege.

I said "but they just hate gays! They don't care about the referendum!"

Police officer: "Yeah, I know. But they registered their little protest." (translated but pretty direct quote, which I think was pretty cool.)

I did leave - the police were super chill about it and that's fine - but not because I thought it was wrong to shout at some anti-gay protesters. They have the right under freedom of speech and assembly to voice their (bigoted) views. They don't have the right not to face consequences for those views, like being told they're bigoted in public. I didn't force them to stop or take away their microphone, and I couldn't have ejected them if I'd wanted to as it's public space and that's what freedom of speech means. So, no regret there. 


I don't even regret doing it as a foreigner - they probably aren't going to be convinced that same-sex marriage is a local cause in Taiwan. They probably don't care that the anti-gay side is the one that turned to Western hate groups for funding and advice whereas pro-equality groups mostly kept their effort local (though I've heard that some foreign donations did come in late in the game). And I live here too - this is my home and what happens here affects me. As a resident, I also have the right to freedom of speech (really - look it up.)

But, I'd made my point and it was time to move on.

I passed the mass wedding banquet as it was being set up - a friend noted that it was organized by TAPCPR (the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights) and again on my way home when it was in full swing. There were photo backdrops, musical performers, a huge 'flower car' stage and some vendors selling beer, water and promotional goodies. As the banquet was an official function, people who wanted to celebrate but weren't on the guest list came and pickicked on the perimeter. A large screen showing the events on stage was set up for them. The crowd was young, vibrant and enthusiastic. They'd finally grabbed a tiny corner of the privilege to be treated equally and humanely that society had denied them for so long. They were the future.



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Picknickers - the main banquet was closer to the Presidential Office


And let me tell you - it was huge. The crowd of thousands (including the banquet-goers) dwarfed the twenty or so oldsters across Jingfu Gate screaming falsehoods about the referendum. Though I didn't see it, I'm also told the oldsters had an audio recording of crying sounds and a hearse (!) at some point.

Which, LOL. Okay. I guess if you're that self-victimizing (seeing as same-sex marriage doesn't affect them at all) and imagine yourself downtrodden (despite being in the age and class that has held so much power and privilege in Taiwan for so long) you have to turn to histrionics.

So in the end, I went home thinking that I didn't really need to yell at them. Not because I was wrong to do so - I truly don't believe that I was, and don't think I actually broke any law - but because it simply wasn't necessary.

The huge crowd across the street, and all the happiness they exuded, made the same point far more effectively.

The aging protesters will look more and more ridiculous as marriage equality slowly becomes an accepted norm in Taiwan, and normal people realize that the sun is still in the sky and the Earth is still spinning and nothing has changed about their own lives, and that if they don't like same-sex unions they don't have to have one. They'll cry and weep and rend their garments, and we will ignore them. (Though let's not get complacent about 2020 - we will eventually win but they will certainly try to use this against Our Lady of Spice, Tsai Ing-wen).

The future held a much bigger party, a much younger party. They won, love won, and Taiwan won, and the angry oldsters with their hearses and black signs can die mad about it. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Some media in Taiwan get Beijing's approval to run stories, and nobody cares?

So, a few days ago the Association of Taiwan Journalists issued a statement that the National Security Bureau has caught wind of some media outlets in Taiwan obtaining pre-approval from Beijing before running stories.

And...nobody seems to care?

I don't know why - that sounds absolutely terrifying to me. We've been hearing a lot of discussion about possible interference by China in the 2018 election, attempts to propagate fake news and influence the media and generally undermine Taiwan's democratic norms. Now we have some concrete evidence, or at least a report, on at least one avenue they are pursuing and...crickets.

I expected to hear more about it in the English-language media and...nothing, except this - a blog I'd never heard of before but might start following. There is coverage in the Chinese media - I don't have a TV so I couldn't tell you about broadcast (and am a bit lazy about finding that stuff on Youtube) but it's in the print news at least.

But not a lot of print news - I found pieces in Liberty Times, UDN and Yahoo! News Taiwan, and not a lot else.

So, I've gone ahead and translated the statement for you. I'm not a great translator but I did my best: 


During a meeting of the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislative Yuan on the morning of the 2nd (of May), Democratic Progressive Party legislator Luo Chi-cheng questioned whether there are some media outlets which inform the "other side" (that is, China) of the contents of any 'breaking news' or 'editorial pieces' and obtain approval from Beijing before running them. Deputy Director of the National Security Bureau Chen Wen-fan replied that he had "heard of this happening recently."
This short question and answer shows that the National Security Agency does not deny certain "news" received by domestic audiences may be reviewed or even edited by the Chinese government. 
In addition to this, the Taiwan Association of Journalists feels it is unfortunate that this is a matter all people should be concerned with; we appeal to audiences to actively shun media which may produce such content. Creating such content does not serve the needs of listeners to obtain news, but rather follows the instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping that "the media must belong to the party, listen to the party and walk with the party." 
The Taiwan Journalists Association believes that the journalism industry that informs and educates the public will continue its effort to exercise freedom of speech, follow a different path, and will not participate in in China's attempt to interfere with domestic freedom in Taiwan by reviewing pre-publication content from abroad.

And here's the original press release: 

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The statement specifically mentions listening audiences, which points to it being an issue with broadcast media.

This actually doesn't surprise me - I'm sure we've all noticed that the usual craven, half-true sensationalism that characterizes Taiwanese TV news - and especially the sludge they broadcast on blue-leaning stations - has gotten worse recently. I may not have a TV but even I've noticed it, just from the TVs in restaurants. (I used to merely prefer restaurants that didn't put on CTV or TVBS, now I actively avoid them).

What scares me even more? We don't know which stations are doing this - there is no list, according to deputy minister of the Mainland Affairs Council Chiu Chui-cheng.

Though we can guess that most or all blue-leaning ones are involved - and it is nearly impossible to convince the viewers hypnotized by it that they're watching Beijing-approved swill. If they cared about that they wouldn't have tuned in in the first place.

It's going to be a long, painful slog to 2020. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

It's like air: Tiananmen in Taipei, 2018

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Honestly, I feel the need to write about the Tiananmen Square memorial event held yesterday, June 4th not because I think I have anything unique to say about it that others couldn't, but because this year it felt so lightweight that if we don't note it down for the collective Internet memory, the event as a whole will just float away, as though it never happened. Which is, of course, exactly what the Communist Part of China wants. Nobody likes the world remembering massacres they perpetrated.

The event was mostly in Chinese, with a few speakers addressing the crowd in English. I would like to suggest here that the entire event should be bilingual, and next year's 30th anniversary event might actually make the news, so it would be smart to have translators ensuring all talks are available in English and Chinese. I can follow the Chinese, but I can imagine many foreigners in Taipei who'd be otherwise interested in attending might not, because it's not very exciting to hear speeches in a language you don't understand.

As usual, the event featured a number of speakers from a variety of activist groups across Asia, including recorded talks from Uighur activists, two speakers from Reporters Without Borders (based in Taipei) and a particularly electrifying speech by Vietnamese activist and Taipei resident Trinh Huu Long. Yu Mei-nu, Yibee Huang and Zheng Xiu-juan (Lee Ming-che's boss, although that sounds odd to say in English) were some of the Taiwanese speakers.

Zheng likened China's human rights abuses to its intractable pollution problem, saying that "human rights are like air" - when you're breathing comfortably you don't notice them, but when the pollution ratchets up to PM 2.5, you realize how vital clean air to breathe is, and suddenly you're suffocating. (I'm translating roughly from memory here).


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Zheng Xiu-juan (鄭秀娟) and Yibee Huang (黃怡碧)


There were also performances, including a memorable entrance by Taiwanese rapper Chang Jui-chuan (張睿銓), who sang one of his newer songs, Gin-a. The lyrics (in Taiwanese) discuss Taiwanese democracy movements and freedom fighters post-1949:

Killing after killing, jail after jail...
Hey kid, you must remember

Their blood and sweat, torment and sacrifice
Gave you the air you're breathing



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Empty chairs at empty tables



And that's just it - the 6/4 event, held every year, feels like a part of the air here in Taiwan. It just happens, everyone knows it happens, and they assume others will attend so they take it for granted. It's there, it's always there, maybe next year, someone will show up. I don't need to worry about it. Ugh, Monday night.

What you get, then, is an attendance rate that looks like it might have been less than 100 (but damn it, Ketagalan Media made the effort. We showed up.) Which, again, is exactly what the CCP wants - for us to forget.

In 2014 this event was huge, with camera lights stretching back into the distance and prominent Taiwanese activists showed up - including Sunflowers fresh off the high of electrifying society and about to watch the tsunami they started wash across the 2014 elections. We thought we could change Asia. We thought it was within our grasp...and now there are empty chairs stretching back, and nobody seems to notice the air they're breathing.

Some say it doesn't matter, or is odd to hold in Taiwan, as China is a different country. It's true that China and Taiwan are two different nations. What happens in China affects Taiwan, though, and hosting memorial events so close to China and in venues where a number of Chinese are likely to walk by does make a difference, if a small one. We're on the front lines in the fight against China's encroaching territorial and authoritarian expansionism, so it means something to take a stand - even a small one - here.

In 2016 an entire group of Chinese tourists walked right past the event - this year, someone seems to have ensured that wouldn't happen again. For once, Dead Dictator Memorial Hall was completely devoid of Chinese tour groups and I doubt that was a coincidence. What I'm saying is, somebody noticed.

It also serves as a reminder that Taiwan is not China - we can and do hold these events here, and we do so freely and without fear. We talk about our history, as Chang does in Gin-A. We discuss our common cause, as democracy activists from across Asia did last night. What we do - let's not forget human rights abuses that happen in Taiwan - may not perfectly align with what we stand for, but we talk about it, and we have the space and air we need to work toward something better. In China you can't breathe at all.

But the people who died at Tiananmen 29 years ago are among those whose sacrifice may eventually give China the air it needs to breathe - though I grow less sure that it might happen in my lifetime. Fighters like Lee Ming-che, thrust into the national spotlight and just as quickly forgotten even in Taiwan, give Taiwan the air it needs to breathe. We give ourselves air and beat back the oppressive particulates trying to suffocate us, by standing up for what's right and refusing to forget the massacres of the past.

We must remember. We can't let this event float away on the air, as though it doesn't matter, or it doesn't matter for Taiwan. It absolutely does.

I mean, I get it - I'd like to feel totally safe knowing my freedom and guaranteed access to human rights was not in question. I'd like to sit on the couch and eat Doritos and not even worry about it, because I don't have to. It's tiring to keep showing up. Unfortunately, Taiwan really is on the front line, and we can't do that - we can't pretend it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter.

Next year is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Mark your calendar now, make sure you're free, and show up.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Taiwan's defamation laws can silence sexual assault victims

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Much has been made in the foreign community recently about Taiwan's insane defamation and personal insult laws, what with some guy who got flipped off acting like a massive can of Tender Pieces and suing over it, among other things that I won't write about here.

In Taiwan, you can get sued for flipping someone off, shouting a swear word at them (including "fuck"), writing something critical that the person criticized simply doesn't like, or less. According to this interpretation, telling the truth (or believing you are) is a valid defense, but to be frank, I've been privy to court cases where that didn't seem to play out as cleanly as the text would imply it ought to. 

I mean, I thought we'd gotten rid of authoritarianism and suppression of freedom of expression in Taiwan, but clearly not entirely. There have been times when there were things I know to be true that I would have liked to have published here, which I feel were in the public interest and have refrained knowing that being right isn't necessarily enough. Honestly, the implications for freedom of speech for this are horrifying - you can be telling the truth about some awful people or organizations that should be publicly known, and still have it come back to bite you. I have more than one gut-wrenching story that I will only share in private.

So, what to do if you are a victim of sexual assault? I've written about this elsewhere as part of a longer piece, and after much thought, still don't have a good answer.

Sexual assailants often strike where there are no witnesses or cameras. It's your word against theirs. Even if there are witnesses, they might not come forward for you. It's hard to press charges in such situations, especially when it's not the type of sexual assault that leaves physical evidence behind.


Leaving aside cultural taboos that prevent victims from coming forward (a different topic), let alone pressing charges, the law is not on the side of anyone assaulted in this way. In the US, if your goal is to warn others about someone's predatory behavior and see that there are natural consequences to their actions, but don't want to or can't press charges, you can still come forward. Your speech is protected by law unless it can be shown that it was intentionally false and malicious. The burden of proof is on the accuser.

In Taiwan, all you need to do is get flipped off or have someone say "fuck you" in your general direction because you did something to piss them off to win. If you sexually assault someone but they can't prove that you did so, the burden of proof is on the accuser-turned-defendant if they want to speak out.

What do you do in Taiwan, then, when you have been sexually assaulted and you want to #MeToo the hell out of it - warn other women, make it clear that there are social consequences for such actions - but cannot or don't want to (or can't afford to) press charges?

If you speak out, you could very well be slapped with a defamation lawsuit. Literally, some guy grabs your ass, you talk about it publicly (but don't want to press charges) and he sues you for defamation. He might not win the case, but he's cost you quite a bit of money in lawyer's fees even if it never goes to trial. There is no guarantee, however, that it won't go to trial and you won't lose. I've seen weirder, less well-argued verdicts handed down.

A reliable source of mine says the laws protect those who speak out about being sexually assaulted or harassed, but to be honest, I've looked and I can find no such explicit legal protection. If anyone does a better research job than I have, please feel free to let me know.


No wonder there is no #MeToo movement in Taiwan. Beyond the tendency to not report due to cultural pressures - don't rock the boat, you'll ruin his career over a pat on the ass, what were you wearing anyway, don't make waves, it will make things difficult, just let it go - one simply cannot report without fear of entirely unfair legal repercussions.

In this particular way, I cannot say that Taiwan deserves credit for having robust freedom of speech protections.

It doesn't.