Taiwanese Sexologist Faces Possible Dismissal and Imprisonment Over Web Site

Chronicle of Higher Education, July 22, 2003 By JEN LIN-LIU

More than 2,400 professors, students, and others have signed an international petition to support a sexologist in Taiwan who may be imprisoned for two years and dismissed from her university if she is found guilty of breaking the island's obscenity laws.

The petition was organized by the Taiwan Gender/Sexuality Rights Association, among other advocacy groups, in response to a legal complaint filed in late June against Josephine Ho, a tenured English professor and founder of the Center for the Study of Sexualities at National Central University. Approximately 400 of the signatures have come from abroad.

The legal complaint was filed in the Taipei City High Court by the Republic of Taiwan's Publication Appraisal Foundation, a nonprofit organization, on behalf of several education, child-advocacy, and religious groups in the country. The complaint asserts that the center's Web page, which is run by Ms. Ho, contained a hyperlink to another Web site that displayed detailed pictures of bestiality. That link could be punishable under a law, designed to protect children, that forbids individuals to post obscenities on the Internet.

"We respect academic freedom, if it is done in a classroom or if you have a fire wall on your Web site," said Hsu Wen-pin, the foundation's chief director. "But [what Ms. Ho posted] was available for anyone to look at." The group has lobbied for warning labels on certain reading materials.

For her part, Ms. Ho said she had included the link as part of an online databank of research on various forms of sexual activity that are often considered deviant and perverse. The databank, which Ms. Ho said was the island's only Web site "that provided a wealth of scholarly discussion on various sexualities," was removed from the Internet in April after the Good Shepherd Sisters Foundation, one of the plaintiffs, denounced the site in the island's newspapers.

Even though the databank has been removed, Mr. Hsu said the plaintiffs had decided to press forward with the complaint, to ensure that Ms. Ho is prosecuted. The plaintiffs are not seeking compensatory damages. At a hearing scheduled for September 23, a judge will decide whether or not to proceed with the case. If Ms. Ho is found guilty, she could face a two-year prison term or a $30,000 fine.

Jimmy Jue, a top official at National Central University, said that if Ms. Ho were found guilty, the university could take disciplinary action, including possibly dismissing her despite her tenure.

"We have supported her basic research," said Mr. Jue. "As a rule, we support all of our professors. But it doesn't mean that there are no limits to what you can do."

Critics of Ms. Ho have denounced her as an extremist who advocates bestiality. Ms. Ho said that some of the plaintiffs in the case have been trying to damage her reputation for several years because of her support for the rights of underage prostitutes and her research into transsexual and transgender subjects.

The groups that filed the legal complaint believe that "if you're not condemning something, that means you're in support of it," said Ms. Ho. "It's a travesty against our basic human rights to be prosecuted for not holding on to a mainstream, moralist viewpoint."