Taiwan | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores



Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


The administration of incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou, who was reelected in Taiwan’s fifth direct presidential election in 2012, continued pursuing closer ties with China during 2013. Having signed the bilateral Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) trade pact in 2010, the two governments agreed on another deal in June 2013 that would open up their service sectors. The agreement was under legislative review at year’s end.

In one of a series of high-profile corruption cases, a former cabinet secretary general was acquitted of bribery charges in April, though he was sentenced to over seven years in prison for lesser offenses. Former president Lee Teng-hui, who was indicted in 2011 for alleged embezzlement and money laundering, was found not guilty in November.

Concerns about abuses at the Special Investigation Division of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office, which is administered by the Ministry of Justice, mounted during the year. Prosecutor General Huang Shih-ming was indicted in October for allegedly leaking wiretap information to President Ma without authorization.

Two deals initiated by private media owners in 2012 that had triggered nationwide concern over reduced news diversity both fell through in 2013. After a lengthy review, the National Communications Commission (NCC) in February rejected a media conglomerate’s bid to purchase the country’s second-largest cable provider. The second deal, a buyout of the Taiwan assets of Hong Kong’s Next Media Group, collapsed in March, after the consortium of buyers reportedly withdrew to avoid potential antitrust scrutiny.

In August, the death of an army conscript triggered a mass protest featuring significant youth participation. Several other large-scale demonstrations held during 2013 were organized by civil society groups instead of political parties, with a growing focus on nonpartisan issues.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 36 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 11 / 12

The president is directly elected for up to two four-year terms, appoints the prime minister, and can dissolve the national legislature (Legislative Yuan), which consists of 113 members serving four-year terms. The Executive Yuan, or cabinet, is made up of ministers appointed by the president on the recommendation of the prime minister. The three other branches of the government are the judiciary (Judicial Yuan), a watchdog body (Control Yuan), and a branch responsible for civil-service examinations (Examination Yuan). Direct elections for both the president, since 1996, and for the legislature, since 1991, have been considered generally free.

President Ma, the candidate of the ruling nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party, won a second term in the January 2012 presidential election. The KMT also retained its majority in concurrent legislative elections, taking 64 seats. The proindependence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) remained the largest opposition faction with 40 seats, and the remainder went to independents and smaller parties.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

Taiwan’s multiparty system features vigorous competition between the two main parties, the KMT and the DPP. Opposition parties are able to function without interference. The KMT has dominated both the executive and legislative branches since 2008.  Although the KMT holds a clear advantage in campaign funding from the business sector, which in general favors the Ma administration’s China-friendly policy, the opposition parties have been able to compete freely during major elections, including the presidential and legislative balloting in January 2012.


C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Though significantly less pervasive than in the past, corruption remains a problem in Taiwan. Instances of vote buying occur at the local level during elections. Politics and big business are closely intertwined, leading to malfeasance in government procurement. In April 2013, former Executive Yuan secretary general and KMT lawmaker Lin Yi-shih was acquitted of the core corruption charges issued against him in October 2012. He had faced a life sentence for allegedly demanding NT$63 million (US$2.1 million) in bribes from a businessman seeking a contract, but the Taipei District Court instead sentenced him to seven years and four months in prison for unexplained wealth and extortion.

After former president Chen Shui-bian was given an additional 10-year prison term in December 2012 for taking bribes during his presidency, the Ministry of Justice announced in June that Chen, who was already serving a sentence of 18 and a half years on other corruption charges, would serve a total of 20 years—the maximum sentence for such crimes according to Taiwan’s criminal code. Another former president, Lee Teng-hui, was acquitted in November in an embezzlement and money-laundering case; his former aid, Liu Tai-ying, was convicted and sentenced to two years and eight months in prison in the same case. Both Lee and Liu had been indicted in 2011 for diverting secret diplomatic funds to launch a private research organization.

Taiwan was ranked 36 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 52 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16

Taiwan’s media reflect a diversity of views and report aggressively on government policies and corruption allegations, though many outlets display strong party affiliation in their reporting. After two and a half years of disputes over the leadership of the Public Television Service (PTS), a new board of directors was formed in June 2013, and a former chief of the now defunct Government Information Office was elected as the chairman.

Growing media ownership by conglomerates with business interests in China has raised public concerns about self-censorship on topics considered sensitive by Beijing. The NCC in February rejected a bid by Want Want Broadband, a subsidiary of the Want Want Group conglomerate, to purchase the country’s second-largest cable provider. The regulator had granted conditional approval for the proposed merger in 2012, requiring Want Want owner Tsai Eng-meng and his associates to avoid any involvement in the management of a news channel controlled by the company, and to establish guidelines to ensure the editorial independence of another television network, among other stipulations. Want Want attempted to meet the requirements by placing the majority of the news channel’s shares in a trust with a Taiwanese bank in December 2012, but the NCC concluded that such an arrangement left the controlling relations unchanged. Critics had warned that the bid would enable Tsai, who is known for his pro-Beijing stance, to monopolize Taiwan’s media landscape.

In March, the proposed buyout of the Taiwan assets of Next Media Group fell through after raising similar concerns. The consortium of buyers, most of whom had large business operations in China, reportedly withdrew to avoid potential antitrust scrutiny. The print assets of Next Media Group, including the popular Apple Daily newspaper, which is known for its nonpartisan and investigative reporting, continued to operate under original owner Jimmy Lai of Hong Kong. In April, Next TV was sold to the chairman of ERA Communications, Taiwan’s largest distributor of news channels. That sale was approved by the NCC in November.

Taiwanese of all faiths can worship freely. Religious organizations that choose to register with the government receive tax-exempt status.

Educators in Taiwan can generally write and lecture without interference. In September 2013, a court ruled in favor of a university professor who was sued by a Taiwanese petrochemical conglomerate for defamation in April 2012, after he published a report alleging that one of its factories was emitting a carcinogen.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 11 / 12

Freedom of assembly is generally respected in Taiwan, and several large-scale demonstrations during 2013 featured increased youth participation compared with previous years. In August, more than 110,000 protesters turned out for a rally demanding military reforms after a 24-year-old army conscript died of internal bleeding and organ failure while being punished for minor misconduct. The defense minister resigned that month.

Taiwan’s Assembly and Parade Law enables police to prosecute protesters who fail to obtain a permit or follow orders to disperse. In July, a professor was detained at a rally against forced house demolitions in the village of Dapu in northern Taiwan. He was charged with offense against public safety in September, having attempting to enter a restricted area for the presidential motorcade while shouting antigovernment slogans.

All civic organizations must register with the government, though registration is freely granted. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) typically operate without harassment.

Trade unions are independent, and most workers enjoy freedom of association. However, military personnel and government employees (with the exception of teachers) are barred from joining unions and bargaining collectively.


F. Rule of Law: 14 / 16

Taiwan’s judiciary is independent, and trials are generally fair. However, scandals at the Ministry of Justice and its Special Investigation Division (SID) have raised concerns about political interference and illegality among prosecutors. The SID is administered by the Ministry of Justice and tasked with investigating high-profile cases. In October, Prosecutor General Huang Shih-ming, who leads the division, was indicted for allegedly disclosing wiretapped conversations to President Ma. Huang reportedly briefed the president in August and September on ongoing investigations, and suggested that Wang Jin-pyng, speaker of the Legislative Yuan, had lobbied Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu to interfere with a commercial lawsuit involving a DPP lawmaker. Tseng resigned in September after being accused of pressuring prosecutors not to appeal the lawmaker’s acquittal. The KMT attempted to revoke Wang’s party membership, but he retained his position after winning a court ruling that month. The case against Huang was pending at year’s end. The scandal prompted calls to abolish the SID.

Separately, after 18 years of litigation, the Supreme Court in August 2013 handed down guilty verdicts against two former prosecutors for leaking information to a gambling-arcade tycoon, who was jailed in 1997 for running a network of illegal video-gambling parlors. One prosecutor was sentenced to eight years and four months in prison, and the other was sentenced to one year.

Police largely respect the ban on arbitrary detention, and attorneys are allowed to monitor interrogations to prevent torture. Despite international criticism, Taiwan executed six inmates in 2013, while 50 people were awaiting execution after exhausting all appeals. Family members of inmates are typically not informed about scheduled dates of executions. Police corruption remains a problem in parts of Taiwan. Most instances involve officers being paid to provide information to venues that are targeted for raids. In July, six officers were indicted for taking bribes from the operator of an illegal gambling ring in Taipei through a number of journalists who acted as middlemen.

The constitution provides for the equality of all citizens, though the island’s indigenous people continue to face social and economic discrimination. Disputes over their reserve lands continued as efforts to pass the Indigenous Autonomy Act stalled in 2013. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are protected by law. Same-sex marriage is not permitted.

Taiwanese law does not allow for asylum or refugee status, and a 2010 bill that would address the problem was under legislative review at year’s end.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 13 / 16

A program launched in 2011 by the government allowed Chinese tourists from 26 cities to travel to Taiwan without supervision. The daily quota was increased to 3,000 from 500 in 2013.

The constitution guarantees women equal rights, though Taiwanese women continue to face discrimination in employment and compensation. After 2012 elections, women held 30 percent of the seats in the legislature. Women from China and Southeast Asian countries are often at risk for sex trafficking and forced labor, but the government has stepped up efforts to tackle such issues in recent years.

According to official statistics, there were at least 469,000 foreign workers in Taiwan in 2013. Cases of abuse and exploitation are not unusual.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology