Taiwan's rulers clamp down on old Triad allies

Taiwan's government is claiming that almost one in six of Triad gang members have revoked their membership just in time to avoid prosecution under draconian new anti-gang laws which are so far-reaching as to be causing concern among human rights groups.

As of midnight yesterday, prosecutors will be able to act against any grouping of more than three people who are believed to be associating for the purpose of taking part in criminal activities or participating in criminal behaviour classified as "habitual, violent and in threatening patterns".

The new law, which comes into force today, is so loose as to allow the prosecution of political party members and members of social clubs who may be suspected of having criminal intentions.

The inclusion of political party members is not without foundation because, according to the Justice Ministry, 286 out of the 858 elected representatives at local government level are involved in Triad activities.

Many legislators are also suspected of having close Triad associations, and the construction industry, property development and the entertainment industries are riddled with organised crime connections.

Public concern over the growth and strength of criminal gangs lies behind the new laws which also lower the standards for the burden of proof to secure convictions.

Newspapers and radio talk shows are filled with members of the public expressing fears that Taiwan is being submerged under the influence of Triad gangs.

"The direction of opinion is moving towards an undesirable result that exploits public discontent against gangs and their newly-acquired status in politics," said Kao Ruey-jeng, president of the Taipei Bar Association. "Even if the government says it wants to send all gangsters to hell, the people will say `yes'."

The fear is that the new laws will be used against legitimate protest groups in a throwback to the old days before martial law was finally repealed in 1987. Lin Yu-fang, an opposition New Party legislator, said, "I might not be able to run for elections if they decide to turn against me". He complained that "in the past, the government did not do enough to strike against gangsters. Now the new law is giving too much power for the government to punish ordinary people."

Under the law, a two-month grace period was granted for Triad members to turn themselves in to the police to avoid facing imprisonment of six- months to five-years plus a ten-year suspension of the right to run for public office.

Although the police are happy that so many gangsters have turned themselves in and 35 gangs, or one third of all known triad societies, have gone through disbandment procedures, the authorities are far from sure that this signals an end to criminal involvement by those involved.

The irony is that the ruling Kuomintang Party, which retreated to Taiwan in 1949, following the success of the Communist revolution on the Chinese mainland, was heavily dependent on Triad gangster support and gave shelter to the Chinese criminal elements who are now fleeing back to the mainland to avoid the crackdown in Taiwan.