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Taiwan's outdated laws land food critic in jail

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

A Taiwan food critic’s jail sentence for her swipe at a local restaurant has raised questions about how far the free media can go before someone who gets a grilling sues, and wins, under archaic defamation laws.

Newspapers and television networks on the staunchly democratic island of 23 million routinely flog people, from the president to the business elite. Those accused seldom protest, fearing that retraction demands would further inflame the media. But once every couple of years someone files a high-profile defamation lawsuit.

In June the High Court in the city of Taichung sentenced a blogger to 30 days in jail for calling a restaurant’s food too salty after trying just one dish and alleging the presence of cockroaches.

“She had no way of knowing whether that’s true,” said court spokesman Wu Huo-chuan. The blogger, whom Mr. Wu declined to name, got a suspended sentence pending two years of good behavior.

The case outraged local media. Their livelihood remains dangerously close to the coals, says American-born, Taiwan-based blogger Michael Turton. “Sadly, the case did not spur the authorities or the public to reconsider these archaic, restrictive laws with their chilling implications for political speech,” he says.

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