Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and Taiwan authorities generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.
Freedom of Speech: In February the High Court overruled the September 2019 acquittal of a man, Chia-yu Lee, and found him guilty of inciting individuals to burn the Republic of China flag. The lower court had acquitted him on the grounds that his act was a form of constitutionally protected speech.
The law most cited to curb the spread of disinformation was the Law for Maintaining Social Order, which authorities have used to limit or question speech to combat misinformation. For example, in December 2019 police questioned a political science professor for potential violations of this law arising from a video (deemed misleading by authorities) that he posted in 2018 on Facebook criticizing the administration’s policy on the National Palace Museum. Courts ruled in January that the comments constituted protected free speech. In July, two opposition Tainan City councilors were referred to the court for potentially violating that law, after publicly claiming that counterfeit versions of stimulus vouchers were being circulated. In September the Tainan district court concluded that the councilors’ comments fell within the scope of free speech and upheld its ruling that no punishment would be issued, rejecting police claims that the city councilors “spread rumors to disrupt public order.”
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were no credible reports authorities in Taiwan restricted media freedom.
In September the Ministry of Health and Welfare cancelled new regulations that barred media from placing suicide-related articles on front pages, the use of sensational headlines in suicide cases, and the use of photographs of suicides or the inclusion of hyperlinks to such images, as well as repetitive reporting of suicide-related news.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) influenced Taiwan media outlets through pressure on the business interests of their parent companies in the PRC. Taiwan journalists reported difficulty publishing content critical of the PRC, alleging that PRC authorities had pressured Taiwan businesses with operations in China to refrain from advertising with Taiwan media outlets which published such material. To punish Taiwan media outlets deemed too critical of PRC policies or actions, the PRC would subject their journalists to heightened scrutiny at Chinese ports of entry or deny them entry to China. PRC actors also targeted the computers and mobile phones of Taiwan journalists for cyberattacks.
In January a new law criminalized receiving direction or funding from prohibited Chinese sources to conduct political activities, with sentences up to five years imprisonment and substantial fines. In response to the passage of this law, Master Chain, a Taiwan-based media group also operating in China, announced plans to suspend its Taiwan operations. Opposition politicians and some media outlets criticized these provisions as overly broad and potentially detrimental to freedom of expression, including for the press.
On November 18, Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) declined to renew the license of CTi News, the first nonrenewal of a news channel license since the NCC’s establishment in 2006. The independent regulatory agency noted CTi News’ repeated violations of broadcasting regulations for which the channel was fined 23 times for a total of 11.5 million New Taiwan (NT) dollars ($390,000) over the past six years. The NCC also cited CTi News’ failure to implement internal control and self-regulation reforms designed to remedy problems noted during its 2014 license renewal process. Opposition politicians and some academics and commentators claimed NCC’s decision not to renew the license was politically motivated retaliation for CTi News’ criticism of the ruling party. On the other hand, there have been serious allegations that CTi News and its sister publications owned by the Want Want Group took editorial direction from the PRC. CTi News challenged the NCC’s decision in administrative court but ceased broadcasting when its operating permit expired on December 11.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation and public humiliation are criminal offenses. Reporters faced online bullying and the threat of legal action, particularly under the liberal libel laws.
Under the law those who commit the offense of slander or libel by “pointing out or disseminating a fact which will injure the reputation of another” are subject to a sentence of up to two years or a fine. Victims of slander can also claim reasonable financial compensation and require measures for the rehabilitation of their reputations. These provisions allow the subjects of unfavorable press coverage to press criminal and civil charges directly against journalists and media outlets for defamation. Journalists were rarely convicted for criminal defamation, as the law also specifies that a person who makes “fair comment on a fact subject to public criticism” with “bona-fide intent…shall not be punished.” Some legal scholars and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) continued to urge that libel be treated exclusively as a civil matter.
In July 2019 the Want Want Group, which has substantial operations in the PRC, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Taiwan-based Financial Times journalist Kathrin Hille in apparent retaliation for a report she authored exposing coordination between Want Want media outlets in Taiwan and the PRC Taiwan Affairs Office. Want Want also filed suit against Taiwan’s state-run Central News Agency for citing the Financial Times report. Reporters without Borders called Want Want Group’s legal action an “abusive libel suit” against a journalist whose reporting was credible. These lawsuits remained pending.
Authorities did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports they monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic freedom is generally well protected. Some observers said that universities have sought to prevent or restrict speech related to the PRC.
In May a Chung Yuan Christian University professor surnamed Chao accused the university of interfering with academic freedom to appease Chinese students. The professor alleged the university pressured him to apologize for saying that the novel coronavirus likely originated in Wuhan and for identifying himself as “a professor from the Republic of China.”
There were no restrictions on cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and Taiwan authorities generally respected these rights.
The constitution provides for freedoms of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and authorities generally respected these rights.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities imposed border control restrictions. In August the Central Epidemic Command Center barred entry by children of Chinese spouses older than age six, including by those with a valid Taiwan residency permit.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and authorities have not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Due to its unique political status, Taiwan is not eligible to become a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
All PRC citizens unlawfully present are required by law to be returned to the PRC, although Taiwan allows PRC asylum seekers to remain in Taiwan on a case-by-case basis.
On July 1, the Taiwan-Hong Kong Office for Exchanges and Services under the Mainland Affairs Council began to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kong permanent residents.
In April Lam Wing-kee of Hong Kong received legal employment status. In April 2019 Lam, former owner of Causeway Bay Books in Hong Kong, relocated to Taiwan, citing concern that he could be extradited from Hong Kong to the PRC under Hong Kong’s proposed extradition bill.
In July Li Jiabao, a former PRC exchange student, reported he no longer had legal status in Taiwan and was facing deportation to the PRC. In March 2019 Li openly criticized PRC president Xi Jinping on Twitter, and in April 2019 he requested a long-term stay permit on political grounds. His student visa expired in April 2019 but in July 2019 the National Immigration Agency granted him a special six-month visa extension for study purposes.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their elected officials in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In January 11 presidential and legislative elections, President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party, maintained a majority in the legislature. Observers regarded the elections as free and fair, although there were allegations of vote buying by candidates and supporters of both major political parties.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate.
President Tsai Ing-wen is Taiwan’s first female president. Following January 11 elections, a record 42 percent of lawmakers were women, an increase from 38 percent in 2016, although less than 3 percent of the cabinet were women. Six seats are reserved in the legislature for representatives chosen by Taiwan’s indigenous people. In 2018 local elections, voters elected women to seven of the 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats. The number of women elected to local councils also continued to grow: Women won 307 of the 912 city and county council seats–an increase from 30.7 percent in 2014 with 33.8 percent in 2018.