Thursday, March 27, 2014

Taiwan: Journalists obstructed as police use force at Taiwan student demonstration


26 March 2014
International Federation of Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) in condemning the restraining of media reporting on a student-led demonstration in Taiwan which led to a violent confrontation between police and protestors earlier this week. This week, the ATJ issued a declaration on the infringement of coverage with calls for police education in the wake of the heavy-handed police response.

Beginning late Sunday evening, March 23, 2014, the National Police Administration (NPA) was called in by Premier Jiang Yi-huah to clear thousands of demonstrators that had occupied Taiwan's Cabinet complex, the Executive Yuan, in an extension of the ongoing occupation of Taiwan's national parliament, Legislative Yuan, which students and citizens have occupied since March 18 to resist passage of a bitterly controversial "Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement" (CSSTA) with China.

The ATJ said: "The NPA mobilised over 5000 police and water cannon riot cars and launched a multipronged assault on protestors gathered around the Executive Yuan complex at 12:20am on March 24 and riot police using water cannon directly on the bodies of students completed the 'clearing' of the complex by 5:20am and proceeded to expel citizens from the streets in front of the Executive Yuan by 7am."

"Before riot police moved to clear demonstrators to the north of the Executive Yuan, many photojournalists and other reporters were pushed away from the area. During the process of the 'cleaning' of the complex, numerous incidents of conflict occurred between police and photojournalists."

One journalist was physically carried out by police even though she displayed her credentials as a reporter accredited to cover the Cabinet and another was blocked by riot police who repeatedly raised their shields to prevent her photographing opposition Democratic Progressive Party politicians arriving to participate in the sit-in. Another photojournalist was photographed, held by his neck with clubs wielded by three riot policemen.

The Taipei City Department of Health advised Apple Daily that 123 people were sent to emergency care, including 57 students and citizens, two reporters and one legislator as well as 63 police officers. The ATJ said over 60 people were arrested in the most severe incident of mass violence since November 2008, when thousands of citizens rioted after police attempted to suppress protests over the visit to Taipei by Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin, the then-chairman of Beijing's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.

The ATJ has called on Taiwan's police to uphold news freedom and ensure the right of journalists to engage in news coverage. It also said police must not repeat the practices adopted at the sites of civic resistance in the cases of Wen Lin Yuan, Dapu and the Huakuang Community during which reporters were obstructed from carrying out news coverage or even subjected to violence.

At a news conference on March 24 at the Taiwan Solidarity Union headquarters about the injuries inflicted by police on TSU Legislator Ms Chou Li-nan earlier that day, NPA Deputy Director Tsai Chun-chang publically confirmed that police had attempted to expel reporters from the field of police action by saying that "before we carried out the clearing, we asked media friends to leave to the side to separate them for their news coverage work and so I do not understand why there were reporters mixed in with the protestors."

The IFJ said: "This is a deeply concerning situation for journalists in Taiwan. It is unacceptable for police to physically restrict reporting in this way. It was also an extreme overuse of force on the media which was attempting to cover a story of significant public interest.”

"This is a dangerous precedent and the IFJ strongly urges the Taiwanese authorities to allow all media personnel to safely exercise their professional duties in the future."

To protest these actions, the ATJ issued a statement March 24 as follows:

We Condemn the Taiwan Police for Using Violence March 23 to Infringe on the Right of News Coverage by Reporters

Declaration by the Association of Taiwan Journalists

(1) During the civic resistance action March 23 in which students and citizens opposed to the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement occupied the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) complex, Taiwan police used violence to drag away and even beat reporters. The Association of Taiwan Journalists has already received over 10 reports of such cases and issues a severe condemnation of the indiscriminate use of violence by the police against journalists on the scene and their infringement on the right of journalists to carry out news coverage.

(2) With regard to the action by the police to first isolate reporters and then carry out violent expulsion of citizens in the process of clearing the Executive Yuan complex of the protestors, the ATJ issues a severe protest and expresses our strong suspicion that the purpose of the police was to obstruct journalists from recording the truth and to deliberately obstruct the news coverage work by reporters. These actions constitute a grevious infringement on news freedom.

(3) The ATJ demands that National Police Administrator Director-General Wang Chuo-chun and Taipei City Police Department Chief Huang Sheng-yung must publically regarding the advance education and enforcement principles regarding news coverage by journalists they gave to police officers who carried out the the March 23 and March 24 assignments.

(4) The ATJ reaffirms that, in the process of enforcing the law, the police should ensure the right of journalists to engage in news coverage and uphold news freedom and must not repeat the practices adopted at the sites of civic resistance in the cases of Wen Lin Yuan, Dapu and the Huakuang Community during which reporters were obstructed from carrying out news coverage or even subjected to violence. We urge the National Police Administration to draft "Guidelines on the Protection of the Right of News Coverage by Journalists" and also urge the Executive Yuan to even more clearly requier the police to ensure the rights of news coverage by journalists and their personal safety in the process of law enforcement.