President Tsai compares fake news to terrorism threat in Europe

TAIPEI (CNA) – Criticizing fake news as harming freedom in the guise of free speech, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday compared the threat of fake news in Taiwan to the challenge posed by terrorism in Europe.

Freedom of speech is not an abstract right but an everyday experience in people’s lives, said Tsai as addressing a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the death of Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), a pro-democracy activist and the founder of the “Freedom Era Weekly” who self immolated in 1989 in support of freedom of speech.

“Fake news warfare from the outside poses challenges to Taiwan, just as Europe is challenged by terrorism,” Tsai contented.

She called on Taiwanese people to fully defend the country’s democracy by ensuring freedom of speech and transformative justice prevail.

Tsai praised Cheng for his belief in freedom of speech and said more should be done to achieve that goal.

“I wish to remind all of you on Freedom of Speech Day that the values we cherish face challenges,” Tsai said, adding that “fake news coming from outside Taiwan is harming freedom in the guise of freedom.” “Freedom of speech in Taiwan is being eroded,” she said.

In December 2016, Taiwan’s Executive Yuan declared April 7 National Freedom of Speech Day.

A memorial service was held for Cheng, viewed by some as a martyr of the democracy movement in Taiwan, at his resting place, Chin Pao San Eternal Residence in New Taipei Sunday.

Dignitaries who attended the event also included Presidential Office Secretary-General Chen Chu (陳菊), pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) and Cheng’s widow Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭).

In her speech President Tsai alleged attempts by certain “outside” groups to buy out popular Facebook fan pages for propaganda purposes and to foment social unrest.

Groups from China are aggressively buying popular Facebook fan pages in Taiwan to support unification and criticize “green fans,” referring to the netizens who politically support the DPP, according to some Taiwan local news reports.

Tsai called fake news is a serious challenge to Taiwan’s democracy.

“The secret of freedom is courage,” Tsai quoted Greek historian Thucydides as saying, the same words used by German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Europe facing the threat of terrorism.

National Taiwan University History Professor Chen Tsui-lien (陳翠蓮) lamented in her speech during the same event that China is using its massive resources to brainwash Taiwanese through “democracy loopholes.” Meanwhile, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and former Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德), who has registered to challenge Tsai in the DPP’s presidential primary, both posted messages on their respective Facebook accounts urging compatriots to defend freedom of speech and Taiwan’s democracy.

By Ku Chuan, Yeh Su-ping and Emerson Lim