Taiwanese leaders on Wednesday commemorated the island’s Freedom of Expression Day, which was dedicated to a pro-democracy publisher and activist who committed suicide in his fight for free speech 32 years ago.
The date April 7 was in 2016 named Freedom of Expression Day in honor of publisher Cheng Nan-jung, who self-immolated on that day in 1989 to protest the authorities’ decision to charge him with insurrection for printing a proposal for a new constitution. He was 41.
President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan paid tribute to Cheng by posting a photo of him on her Facebook page. She said Taiwanese people should cherish and protect the freedom of speech they currently enjoyed, as April 7 was a remainder of the rough path to democratization the island had taken over the past decades.
Free speech had become particularly important to counter misinformation, especially that spread by entities outside Taiwan, Tsai said.
Taiwanese vice president William Lai noted that Cheng’s death was remembered in Taiwan alongside other democracy events that happened around the world in 1989, including the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing.
“Cheng used his own life to break prohibitions imposed by an authoritarian regime and opened an era of freedom,” Lai wrote on his Facebook account.
Lai echoed Tsai’s calls for vigilance against misinformation and cyberattacks from external forces, saying that some were taking advantage of freedoms in Taiwan to attack its free and democratic system.
Kaohsiung city councilor Huang Jie urged Taiwan to speak up for Chinese people, such as those in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. She said China’s Communist Party was infringing on free speech and other human rights in the mainland.
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