In Taiwan, three journalists arrested at student protest

Three journalists were arrested in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, on July 23, 2015 while covering a student protest, according to reports. Liao Chen-hui, a photographer for Liberty Times, Sung Hsiao-hai, a reporter for Coolloud Collective, and freelance reporter Lin Yu-yu were released without charge the following day, according to reports.

The journalists had been covering a demonstration that started on July 22, during which 200 students surrounded the Education Ministry in Taipei to protest changes to high school curriculum guidelines, according to reports. The students argued that the guidelines, due to be introduced in September 2015, are ideologically China-centric and pro-unification, and undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty, reports said. Disputed alterations include a reference to Taiwan being “recovered by China” instead of “given to China” after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945. The students also accused the Taiwanese government of lacking transparency in the policy making process and failing to take their opinions into account.

Just before midnight on July 23, a group of students climbed over a fence and broke into the minister’s office, according to reports. The Taipei city police department arrested 33 people, including Liao, Sung, and Lin, for trespassing. According to reports in the Central News Agency, Taipei Times and other outlets, the journalists and students claimed police confiscated mobile phones, cameras, and laptops, and prevented them from contacting anybody. In a video shot by a demonstrator and put online, an unidentified cameraperson is heard saying, “please don’t use violence. Don’t touch me.” No reports have suggested violence was used against the journalists who were arrested. A report by Taipei police denied that equipment had been confiscated from the journalists.

On July 24, 2015, after refusing to pay NTD 10,000 ($320) each in bail, the journalists were released without charge, according to reports. No reason was given publicly for why the journalists were released after refusing to pay bail. The Association of Taiwan Journalists released a statement earlier that day condemning the arrest and describing it as “a shame for democracy in Taiwan.”

In a statement, Mayor of Taipei Ko Wen-je apologized for “the violation of press freedom” and said that as mayor, he had “an obligation to protect press freedom.” In a press conference on July 27, 2015, Ko said that the city government would establish a committee to investigate the case. Two days earlier, Ko told the press that the police chief responsible for the arrests would not be punished because the mayor viewed the situation as unexpected.

On July 28, Taipei police released a report into the case, according to the Central News Agency. The report concluded that because the journalists failed to apply to the Ministry of Education for an entry permit before entering the building, they had broken the law. Teng Chia-ji, the deputy mayor of Taipei, is due to meet the journalists on July 29 to hear their side of the story, and the city government plans to release a report on August 3, according to the Central News Agency.

The student protest unfolded against a backdrop of increasing uneasiness in Taiwanese society over Beijing’s influence. In March 2014, protesters occupied Taiwan’s legislature for 23 days to block the government’s efforts to approve a trade agreement with China that protesters perceived would make Taiwan more vulnerable to economic influence from China, according to reports. In the 2014 edition of CPJ’s annual publication Attacks on the Press, a CPJ contributor documented Taiwanese journalists’ struggle against Beijing influence.