United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 1, 2016
Executive Summary: If legislators can assault police officers and be acquitted on the spurious basis of “protected speech”, then the China Airlines flight attendant who claimed that a bomb was planted in the president's plane must also be acquitted. After all, the flight attendant took no real action. He was merely striking for the greater good of the flight attendants as a whole. Would such sophistry be considered valid? Why could Premier Lin Chuan drop all charges against the Sunflower Student Movement, but oppose the exercise of public authority and ignore the assault of a police officer?
Full Text Below:
President Tsai Ing-wen has made judicial reform a focal point for her new government. She has stressed the need to restore "people's justice", in order to address injustice and increase public trust. But before she peddles her great reform project, would she please answer one question? Does assaulting a police officer constitute "freedom of speech"?
Big problems always begin small. And so it is with the erosion of public trust in the judiciary. During the Sunflower Student Movement, Legislator Lin Tai-hua attempted to bring a Japanese reporter into the legislature, which the students had occupied, in order to hold an interview. Police stationed at the door blocked him. An altercation ensued, Lin Tai-hua lost his temper and pushed or punched the police officer in the chest. Later some members of the public lodged a complaint with the Taipei District Prosecutors Office, which then charged Lin with "obstruction". Last month the Taipei District Court found her not guilty. The Taipei District Prosecutors Office was dissatisfied with the verdict and appealed.
Lin Tai-hua assaulted a police officer in a fit of anger. She probably lost control temporarily and had no intention of hurting anyone. But the police officer was enforcing the law on behalf of the government. Was the police officer supposed to turn to jelly merely because he found himself face to face with a legislator? If he is assaulted, must he chalk it up to bad luck? In fact, the core of the problem is not Lin Tai-hua's status, or whether police were according respect. The problem was the wishy-washy attitude of the presiding judge. The judge said he acquitted Lin Tai-hua because she was exercising “free speech” within the legislature. Her action was “protected speech”, therefore the legislature's disciplinary code applied. According to the judge, Lin Tai-hua brought a reporter with her into the legislature. That did not violate the legislature's disciplinary code. Therefore, he claimed, the police had no reason to stop her.
The reasons the judge cited for his ruling were not merely irrational, they distorted the facts and trampled over the rule of law. First, when the students occupied the legislature they shut it down. The legislature was no longer in session. Lin Tai-hua brought a foreign reporter to the scene merely for the sake of a photo op, and to join in on the excitement of the student protest. How could she possibly have been conducting legislative business? Second, the altercation took place at the entrance to the Legislative Yuan. Lin Tai-hua was not even inside the legislature. How could she have been exercising her duties as a legislator at that moment? Third, legislators enjoy "protected speech” during interpolation. Assaulting a police officer involves physical violence. Lin Tai-hua attacked the police officer. She was not defending herself against attack. Yet the judge had the chutzpah to invoke the legislature's “protected speech” clause in order to give her a free pass. This was a flagrant miscarriage of justice. Fourth, when students occupied the Legislative Yuan, it was under a state of emergency. If the police failed to maintain order at the scene, and allowed people to move in and out at will, Legislative Yuan order and the safety of the students would have been compromised. Yet the judge ruled that the police had no reason to stop Lin. Such a verdict, issued from a judge's mouth, is disgusting.
We have no idea why the judge resorted to such far-fetched rationalizations to acquit Lin Tai-hua. Was it her personal clout as a legislator? Was it the Sunflower Student Movement's phony halo? Was it the change in ruling parties? What we do know is that no judge who cares about justice, whose head is free of political considerations, could possibly hand down such an absurd ruling. Pushing or punching a police officer is not an extraordinarily violent act. Nevertheless it reveals a contempt for the rule of law. But a judge invoked "protected speech” to whitewash such an act, when the legislature was not even in session. He even condemned police officers who stopped legislators from entering. This merely revealed his guilty conscience, and discredited him as a judge.
The DPP has long accused of KMT of “owning the courts”. But the Taipei District Court's judgment makes people wonder whether the ruling party change has also changed who “owns the courts”. Otherwise, why did the court reverse itself the moment a green camp legislator was indicted? Justice Minister Chiu Tai-san recently issued an open letter to prosecutors, demanding that "prosecutorial teams not include black sheep". He said prosecutions must not involve abuses. Nevertheless prosecutors denounced him for failing to grasp the essence of reform. The new government talks a lot about judicial reform. But concentrating exclusively on the issue of prosecutorial burden of proof misses the point. Many people are deeply dissatisfied with “dinosaur judges” who enjoy tenure, abuse “judicial independence”, and nibble away at the justice system with utter impunity. The dinosaur judge in Lin Tai-hua's case handed down an outrageous ruling. Must people endure such injustices forever? We support the prosecutor's appeal. We hope the next ruling will accord more closely with the truth.
If legislators can assault police officers and be acquitted on the spurious basis of “protected speech”, then the China Airlines flight attendant who claimed that a bomb was planted in the president's plane must also be acquitted. After all, the flight attendant took no real action. He was merely striking for the greater good of the flight attendants as a whole. Would such sophistry be considered valid? Why could Premier Lin Chuan drop all charges against the Sunflower Student Movement, but oppose the exercise of public authority and ignore the assault of a police officer?