EDITORIAL: Kadeer is entitled to a visa

The Taipei Times

Thursday, Sep 24, 2009, Page 8

The Kaohsiung City Government’s decision to bring forward the screening of a documentary on exiled Uighur Muslim activist Rebiya Kadeer — amid complaints by the tourism sector that Chinese tour groups were canceling hotel reservations — was not well-received in some quarters.

Despite Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s (陳菊) claim that the decision was made to prevent controversy over the screening of The 10 Conditions of Love from escalating, the move nonetheless suggests that concessions had to be made because of pressure from China.

A film festival, which serves as a platform for artists to showcase creativity and freedom of expression, should be independent and free from political interference.

Taking into account Chen’s record as an activist who served time for her involvement in the democracy movement, it is unsurprising that her government’s decision resulted in a mixture of anger and disappointment among some supporters.

It is too early to tell whether the decision will have a negative impact on her political standing. What is clear, however, is that Taiwanese of all stripes must hold fast to their democratic entitlements. Cross-strait “harmony,” whatever the benefits, should not come at this price.

The nation’s image as a defender of freedom of speech may have been affected by the decision, but if so, it is not too late to rectify that. One way to do so would be for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government to grant Kadeer a visa.

Two civic groups — Guts United Taiwan and the Taiwan Youth Anti-Communist Corps — have issued invitations to Kadeer to visit Taiwan, which she reportedly has accepted.

Beijing’s reaction to any visit would likely be similar to its attempt to manipulate the Australian government after Kadeer was invited to attend the Melbourne Film Festival early last month.

Censorship and restrictions on movement are not a big deal in China — at least not for those who impose them. In Taiwan, however, they represent the fine line between creeping state control and a liberal society. Having tasted both in its troubled history, Taiwan should know the value of being steadfast on openness and avoiding illiberal conduct.

The embattled Ma administration now has a chance to prove that its talk about defending democracy is more than words.

Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said on Tuesday that a decision would be announced by tomorrow on whether Kadeer would be issued a visa.

Despite Beijing’s claims, Kadeer is not a terrorist, nor would her presence in Taiwan threaten national security. As such, there is no legitimate reason why the Uighur leader should not be permitted to visit Taiwan — unless Taipei is prepared to bow to external forces that would dictate what is permissible and what isn’t inside our borders.