In a lengthy hearing that provoked confusion at the committee table and a fist fight in the audience, a House subcommittee yesterday heard widely disparate views on the status of human rights on Taiwan.
In a hearing room packed with supporters and opponents of Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang regime, the House International Organizations Subcommittee heard a State Department spokesman describe a "trend toward a more open society" in that island nation.
A little later, however, the subcommittee heard a vivid story of repression and political imprisonment from two recent refugees who had criticized the Kuomintang government.
Chang Ching-Tse, editor of a now-defunct Taiwanese politicked the ruling Kuomintang Party, told subcommittee Chairmand Donald Fraser (D-Minn.) that they had been harassed and indicted for their dissent.
They said they fled Taiwan in late May and sought asylum at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. The committee staff, which had heard of them from other Taiwanese dissidents, intervened with the State Department to permit them to enter the United States.
Subcommittee members had trouble following much of the testimony, because several witnesses spoke in Taiwanese and there was difficulty finding an intelligible interpreter.
Further, the translations were often drowned out by the audience, which laughed, moaned and applauded following the witness' statements in their native tongue.
While the members recessed for a vote in the House, some in the audience engaged in a heated argument that led to fisticuffs before Capitol Police restored peace.
Burton Levin, chief of the State Department's Taiwan desk, gave the committee a generally favorable view of personal freedom on the island. His statement called Taiwan a "society in transition," in which respect for human rights is gradually increasing.
"While reports of torture and harassment persist," Levin read in a dispassionate monotone, "they have been less frequent in recent years."
Speaking for the regime, Wan Yu-Yan, mayor of Kaoshiung, Taiwan's second-largest city, said through an interpreter that all Taiwanese have complete political freedom.
Wang then observed that anyone who criticized the Kuomintang's foreign policy or called for a national election "would, of course, get in trouble."
The mayor has just completed a goodwill trip to Kaoshiung's new sister city - Plains, Ga.
Taiwan has been ruled since 1949 by Chinese Kuomintang leaders who fled there after their defeat by the mainland Communists. The Kuomintang has never permitted a national election. Chang, the refugee editor, said he had little trouble when he first started his political review. But, eventually, he said his contributors were harassed by police and the monthly magazine's sixth issue was confiscated by the government.