TAIWAN: Web crackdown infringing on freedoms, Ho believes

Recent police crackdowns on those posting Internet ads are overstepping legal boundaries and hampering freedom of speech

Taipei Times
Monday, September 27, 2004

By Caroline Hong

Recent police crackdowns on those posting Internet ads are overstepping legal boundaries and hampering freedom of speech, a gender rights activist said yesterday.

"The Internet is the only place left where youths can express and explore their sexuality. Today, however, there is a new form of White Terror," said Josephine Ho, an advisor to the Gender Sexuality Rights Association and dean of National Central University's English Department.

"White Terror" refers to the decades-long period of repression and dictatorship by the Chinese Nationalist Party.

Speaking at a forum on Internet culture and sexual relations, Ho called for the public to be aware of the indignities committed by police in their hunt for those soliciting sex on the Internet.

Ho said many Internet users are being manipulated by police into "confessing" that they are looking to buy sex online, using the case of her friend she called "Lin Sang" as an example.

Lin, a clinically depressed older man, was looking for friends online when his ad was answered by a woman. Excited, Lin replied, but was shocked when the woman asked him how much money he wanted. Afraid to turn the woman away, Lin told her that his price was NT$1,000.

When he went to go meet the woman, Ho said, he was taken into custody by police and fined NT$80,000, an amount the unemployed Lin had difficulty raising.

Lin was convicted under Article 29 of the Anti-Sexual Business Provisions for Children and Teenagers.

The article states that distributors of indecent videos, books and pictures over the Internet, TV channels or publications are subject to a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and/or fines of up to NT$1 million.

In contrast, Ho said, an adult found guilty of soliciting or selling sex from another adult in a public place is jailed for three days or fined NT$30,000, in accordance with Article 80 of the Social Order Maintenance Law.

In order to find people selling or soliciting sexual favors on the Internet, police often contact Internet users and attempt to have them make a sexual transaction with an undercover police officer, Ho said.

Once contact is made, Ho said, officers try to get the person to admit guilt by listing a "price" for their services or talking about past sexual transactions.

While some users do use the Internet for sex trafficking, many others who go online are simply using the Web to find romantic relationships or make friends.

"The Internet is a medium of words. People should be punished for actions, not just for talking online," Ho said.