More on the speech freedom case of a food blogger

More than a week after the news -- blogger Liu posted a negative comment about a restaurant and received a fine of ~7,000 US$ plus 30-day detention with 2-year probation -- more info collected makes things look clearer. Liu's original post and the verdicts from both the first and the second trials (all in Chinese) can be found in [1].

There are many blog posts in the English blogsphere commented about this. Among them MKL's post [2] is probably the most popular one. But there are lots of holes need to be patched in his article. Earlier in my blog, I posted a comment [3] about his work, "But when one wrote an article containing lots of unchecked and misleading info, and in that same article spent considerable focus to criticize others those same mistakes, it does look funny to me." The following is a further exploration of that view, with additional details into the case.

I felt funny 'cos in MKL's article, I was among the ones he criticized for

"of course most of the English speaking blogosphere in Taiwan is abuzz and appalled and whatnot (without even reading the original text in Chinese), the so often linked Taipei Times headline was enough for them to pass a quick judgement"

even though my post he linked to was based on a Chinese-language (the Liberty Times). In fact, I didn't even know TT reported it at that time.

It was followed with "I did a better job than others"-style of criticism with statements of having translation helps to make the case analysis in his blog better than others. The funny feeling continued, considering that I has spoken/written in Chinese all life long.

But this is just a personal feeling. It is certain that being able to read/write Chinese doesn't guarantee what I read/write is absolutely correct. This also applies to whatever translation MKL got. I've commented in MKL's blog (on June 27th) on a very crucial error of his article - that is, on the insanitary condition of the restaurant - a comment MKL seems to overlook. With the help of translation, MKL concluded,

"Colleague's testimony in court exposed her as a lier, but the most important thing, that lead to her conviction were her unsubstantiated claims about the sanitary condition"

That is a very serious accusation without ground. I don't know what went wrong -- imprecise translation? miscommunication between MKL and the translator? Or MKL didn't put the translation into the article correctly?

Reading through the court documents [1], what we can say about the witness' testimony, at most, is that her claims (talking about something she heard two years ago) are inconsistent with the claims from the accused. And when statements from witness and from the accused are inconsistent, the judge proceeded with a logic like this (note: this is not a translation):

If what the witness said is correct, then what the accused said is wrong. Therefore, it's obvious that the accused said is wrong. (「被告說她有去吃過,說那裡覺得比較髒一點,吃起來覺得還好」等語,被告確曾對證人提及上開言詞,比對被告張貼於網路所使用之文字:「很難吃、不衛生、有蟑螂」等字眼,已足見前後兩者有極明顯之差異。)

I believe readers can easily spot the false logic.

The judge then continued with that the reason the accused said inconsistent things is because that she wanted to ruin the restaurant's business.

That's quite a stretch, from my point of view.

The witness also said,

"(Yes I heard people said that) it was insanitary. The accused and other colleagues said so." (不衛生是有,被告及我其他另外的同事都有講過)

"Three other colleague also said that the restaurant was a bit insanitary" (我另外三個同事有說過那裡環境比較髒一點)

which the judge didn't seem to take into account. Why only took part of her testimony that is against the accused, but skipped the part that favoring her?

Furthermore, in the appeal court, the accused stated in writing that,

"other bloggers also wrote about the insanitary conditions of the restaurant." (其他網路部落格評論該小吃店髒亂)

It seems that the judge ignored that, too.

The photos taken (probably during the investigation) also shows insanitary conditions (從照片看得出來,他們店到現在還是一樣不衛生) and bottle(s) of cockroach killer (嗣後取得之該店不衛生現場照片與現場擺放殺蟑劑之照片,足見伊所述情節客觀上尚非全然無據). Both are consistent with the descriptions from others that the restaurant was insanitary.

Readers are welcome to read or skip to near the end of this article to see witness' detailed description and picture for yourself being there.

Some readers might also notice in Liu's original blog article,

"I didn't write (about the restaurant) in my food review before, because the restaurant is insanitary and the food is terrible."

which implies that she is a food reviewer who doesn't want to write about -- let alone to ruin -- a restaurant over insanitary condition and/or terrible food.

Based on all info above, it would be more reasonable to assume that the restaurant had been insanitary since two years ago and most probably up to the time of investigation. It would mean that the accused were telling the truth and that the judge made an illogical ruling.

But even if we take the judge's words for granted, nowhere in both verdicts did the law say the accused is a lair. The witness didn't say that, the judge didn't say that. The most serious accusation from the judge is "obviously inconsistent," which, as described above, is based on a false logic.

Therefore, MKL's claim that "Colleague's testimony in court exposed her as a lair" took one step forward from a questionable ruling onto the direction of distortion, thus wrongfully paints a dark judgment on the accused. The fact people calling her "crazy woman" - listed in MKL's blog - is very minor and is irrelevant to the case. By adding that to his highlighted list, it helps to plant a seed in reader's minds that the accused is bad.

Taking into account of MKL's original questioning on "the ruling was given in Feb but why reported now" (it was corrected later after my comment), the case was presented with incorrect info and wrongful accusations, most serious being the one calling her a lair without researching what the truth is (even after I pointed it out). It seems to me that the article was written with a predetermined objective to set the accused on the wrong side from the very beginning.

There are couple of other minor errors, with my highlights:

~~ She claimed that the owner and a customer repeatedly called her "crazy old woman"

-- The Precise translation should have been "Crazy woman". The term "瘋婆子" doesn't necessarily target at "old woman," especially in emotional dispute. (The court document shows that the original wording was "肖查某")

~~ "She then noted in her post, that "of course she wasn't bothered by the car, but she doesn't like people, who make the traffic worse in the neighborhood."

-- No, man. This translation of Liu's article is not correct. What Liu wrote was that "although he didn't obstruct me, but (he) obstructed the public traffic" (雖然他沒妨礙到我..但妨礙到大家的交通). From the tone of entire article, it is clear that she was "deeply bothered." In fact, she mentioned "Although I am mining other's business ... but ... I just couldn't leave it alone" (我這樣雖然多事..但是..就是看不慣), which showed that she was "bothered" to no end.

~~ "the story is out now, because she appealed the verdict, but the judge did not reverse his original ruling"

-- To my knowledge, an appellant court is always ruled by a different judge. So there shouldn't be "his original ruling." What's the point of having the same judge, anyway? To admit that his original ruling is wrong?

~~ "A regular customer of that shop found the post she wrote and told it to the owner, who then decided to sue her for defamation."

--- The owner sued her for "Against the Reputation,"(妨害名譽) but not "defamation."(毀謗) But it's very hard to distinguish the two. The judge did apply charges based on a crime of "defamation", which made it more confusing.

~~ "The judge sentenced her to a 30 days detention, which were changed to 2 years probation and a heavy fine of 200.000 NTD"

-- The judge didn't fine her 200,000 NTD (there's a typo in the decimal point). The fine was 500,000.00 NTD. But the accused and the complainant reached an agreement of 200,000.00 NTD before the 2nd court ruling.

~~ "Michael Turnton does the same and adds his famous sarcasm."

-- As one commenter pointed out, the name Turton was spelled wrong.

It's always encouraging to see a writer try to do some good. In this sense, MKL does have the spirit. Unfortunately, doing a half-baked research with distortion and claiming it "this is what really happened" doesn't really sound right. I guess it made the article more "sensational," especially when the article also criticizes other bloggers for not doing the same kind of research the author did. The fact that the article has to be kept revising, but still leaving quite a few errors and also leading readers into a wrong direction, speaks for itself about how well the research was done.

Other things about the case that we know now:

~~ This is not a case due to Ms Liu writing a "bad food review." It is clear that her blog article in question is not a food review. This is where MKL's effort made a positive contribution to the story;

~~ During the questioning in court, the complainant, Yang, who sued the accused, was listed as a witness,

"The above facts are witnessed and described by the witness, i.e., the complainant Yang, and Chen (Note: Yang's daughter) and others in details during the investigation"

Can you do that ? Go sue someone and play the role of witness in court ? I feel very uncomfortable. And scary, too.

~~ From the judge's statement quoted above, it sounds like the judge already determined what facts were before the witness' testimony was taken into consideration.

~~ Note that the testimony of the second witness, Chen, was very evasive. She dodged every question the judge asked, so her testimony is useless (when asked if the store looked dirty, she answered she just went in to eat, so she didn't notice the environment; when asked if the food tastes bad, she said she didn't order the restaurant special so she can't say)

~~ Below are what in Liu's blog that got her into trouble and the judgment made by the court :

1. Bully -She called the restaurant (owner) bully (惡霸). The judge's ruling on this:

"Because so angry, (the accused) used the internet to attack the restaurant, i.e, the complainant, with extremely negative emotional term "bully". It is therefore obvious that it's difficult to say (the accused) didn't intend to ruin the restaurant's reputation.

Bear with me on the awkward structure of the 2nd sentence. It is a direct translation of what the judge said, which by itself is very difficult to read.The point is, saying the term "bully" is "extremely negative emotional" seems quite a stretch to me.

2. Insanitary (很髒) -- as I mentioned earlier in this article, the judge didn't seem to take into account of other statements that are consistent with Liu's "insanitary" description.

3. Cockroach (蟑螂) -- Liu wrote that she saw (a) cockroach, which she didn't and couldn't prove.

However, cockroaches usually don't pose for photo shot. Besides, an insanitary environment is usually a breeding place for cockroaches, especially when it is greasy and warm and dark (cockroaches are "photophobic" -- they are afraid of light), it almost guarantees that someone will find cockroaches somewhere sometime.

Knowing that, and check back on the witness testimony in details about the restaurant condition,

"The first time I went, it was at lunch time. After I ordered and went in to find a seat, it was dim and dark, and the tables were a bit dirty. Therefore I went outside, where they cooked the noodle. It was brighter there. What I felt at that time was, the tables were a bit greasy."

"The second time I went there with a colleague, I didn't went in. Because it was at night, we ordered to-go and took it back to our company. At that time the condition of the store looked the same as what I saw in the first time, the floor looked dirty and it was dark inside"

The judge asked, that the tables looked dirty, is it because of grease ? Witness: "Yes, and looked old, too."

The judge asked if it looked clean after wiping. Witness: "If it was insanitary simply because of dirty tables, then wiping will clean it. But other than the tables felt dirty and greasy, the floor, the wall, and the light all felt the same."

"*the kitchen of the restaurant was outdoor. Where they prepared food and cook dishes, as well as the plates, the utensils etc etc, all made me feel a bit insanitary"

The witness didn't see a cockroach. But the restaurant condition described by her is a heaven for cockroaches. It wouldn't be a surprise that some customers see a cockroach or two there.

4. Hard to eat (很難吃)-- Liu wrote that the food was terrible. The judgment:

"Even if the accused thinks that the "dry noodle"(or "noodle w/ soybean paste") is too salty, she should have written that concretely, then she can argue she was with good intention and her writing is appropriate. It is hard to determine that her writing that the dish was terrible was with good intention when she's been there only once and felt that the "dry noodle"(or "noodle w/ soybean paste") was too salty."

Didn't we say that the accused did not write a food review ? The judgment would have made more sense if the accused did write one.

We knew that the accused wrote something to express her anger. But, there's some long distance between "expressing anger" and "intending to ruin the business."

~~ For those 4 terms, the judge ruled that the accused committed two crimes: Affront and Aggravated Defamation.

Lastly, even I've done so much to try to clear the case, I have to admit that it couldn't be the whole thing, for what I present here is "logic deduction," but not "legal deduction," such as "what behavior offends which article of law." I don't have enough legal knowledge to opine on that part of judge's ruling (blogger JustRecently might have a take on this [4]).

At this moment, I would say that this case is about an article, expressing author's anger, being stretched to a malicious intention of ruining others business, and harsh punishment was applied accordingly.


[1] 台中劉姓部落格作者因言論被判刑的相關文件 / Echo

[2] Taiwanese blogger jailed over critical restaurant review in Taichung / MKL

[3] Wrote negative comments on food in Taiwan and get heavy punishment /Echo

[4] Freedom of Expression vs Protection of Reputation / JustRecently

Other earlier posts:
-- http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/2011/06/landmark-free-speech-ruling.html
-- http://ozsoapbox.com/taiwan/food/taiwan-jails-food-blogger-over-salty-noodles-review/
-- http://thewritingbaron.com/and-throw-away-the-key
-- http://laorencha.blogspot.com/2011/06/holy-crap.html