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Taiwan Authorities Seize Magazine - 2002-03-20

Taiwan prosecutors ordered the seizure of a weekly magazine on the island just as it prepared to publish allegations of a government slush fund authorized by the island's former president.

Police in Taiwan seized 160,000 copies of Next Weekly, a magazine owned by Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai on Wednesday. Citing a breach of national security, prosecutors searched Next Weekly offices and a reporter's home for documents and computer disks related to the case.

The edition of the magazine intended for release on Thursday alleged that former president Lee Teng-hui gave written approval to a $100 million slush fund for Taiwan's National Security Bureau to use in gathering intelligence and funding under-the-table foreign relations projects.

The magazine protested the seizure of the magazine, saying the government action violated press freedom. When asked by reporters for the legal basis of the seizure, Taiwan's justice minister, Chen ting-nan, claimed a precedence of national security over press freedom. "Publication of Next Weekly was banned because it was preparing to leak state secrets," he said. "This has nothing to do with freedom of the press. Freedom of the press also has its limits. This is the case for newspapers, too."

Virtually the same story was carried in the Wednesday morning edition of one of Taiwan's mainstream newspapers, the China Times, but no move was made to seize copies of that paper. Revelation of a slush fund allegedly authorized by former president Lee Teng-hui touches a sensitive political nerve in Taiwan at the moment. Mr. Lee has been active in promoting his political party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which has openly criticized recent proposals by officials in President Chen's government to relax restrictions on Taiwan investment in high-tech projects in China.

The Chen administration is also under fire for failing to produce results in an ongoing investigation of another scandal involving kickbacks for weapons procurements during former president Lee's term of office that is widely suspected to include officials at the highest levels of his administration.

Taiwan's journalistic community will be closely watching Thursday's edition of the China Times, to see whether it continues to report on the slush fund issue and how Taiwan's government justifies blocking publication of sensitive information that is already public knowledge.