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TAIWAN - Feb 20, 2000

On December 20, 1998, a squad of policemen forcibly entered the AG Club, a well-known gay gymnasium and sauna located in downtown Taipei, and arrested two men found caressing each other in a private compartment under the charge of "obscenity in public". Upon finding the two men, the policemen allegedly instructed them to remove their clothes and pose for photographs in sexually suggestive positions--thus furnishing "proof" of the allegations. A-cheng, a personal trainer working in the gymnasium, also faced arrest under the charge of providing sexual services to customers after he called into question the legality of the policemen's actions. Condoms provided free of charge at the front counter and found in garbage receptacles were reportedly seized as evidence for these charges.

In mid-February 2000, the Taipei district court found the two men as well as A-cheng innocent on all charges. The ruling judge, Wu Chiu-hung, commented to the Taipei Times, "When things such as this happen, the only thing that the court can do is render a not guilty verdict. This is a decision of law, but it can do little to correct the wrongs that have been done to the defendants." Justice Wu referred to a wave of highly biased media coverage which followed the arrests, portraying A-cheng as a "pimp" and manager of a gay sex venue--publicity that, led to the loss of his job and income, not to mention incalculable damage to his social relationships. "He did nothing wrong, but only tried to stop the police from arresting his customers. The charge, as far as I'm concerned, was groundless," Justice Wu told the media.

Volunteers from the Tongzhi Hotline, a support service for lesbians and gays, as well as other activists in Taipei, continue to place what is now notorious as the "AG Club incident" within a context of wider, disturbing patterns of police brutality toward their community. They also have decried the highly biased treatment by the media, characterized by vilification of the defendants and the glaring omission of community perspectives highlighting police abuses of human rights.

Moreover, a heated debate in Taiwan over the appropriateness of this police conduct has contributed toward a change in the law under which the two men faced arrest for alleged conduct in an enclosed, private room at the AG Club. Civic Law Number 234 called for fines or arrest in cases of "overt lewdness in public places." Recently, however, it has been amended, instead penalizing "overt lewdness, with the intention of public exhibition." This amendment, while imperfect, at least appears to require the demonstration of an actor's intent that his or her act be witnessed--protecting private acts and persons from the voyeuristic intrusiveness of official surveillance, as well as from the vague vocabulary of a legal system elastically disinclined to restrict its definition of "public."

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