Media and politicians were told this is a political human rights issue that should find a political solution.

by Alessandro Amicarelli

An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 8th, 2021.

Participants at the press conference.
Participants at the press conference.

On December 7, 2021, in the conference room of the National Indian Gaming Association, in Washington DC, Action Alliance to Redress 1219 organized a press conference on “The Tai Ji Men Case: 25-Year Violation of Human Rights and Violation Freedom.”

Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist of religions and the editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter introduced the event and a video on the Tai Ji Men case, presenting the unjust auction and seizure in 2020 of sacred land intended for a self-cultivation center based on an alleged tax evasion that never happened.

Introvigne explained that Bitter Winter is known for its support of Taiwan, and the Taiwanese American Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) presents at the event also love their country of origin. It is precisely because of their sympathy for Taiwan that they want that it gets rid of the ghosts of its authoritarian past, and improves its international image as a fully democratic country where human rights are respected.

Massimo Introvigne at the press conference.
Massimo Introvigne at the press conference.

Gill Wang, a Taiwanese American dizi, and Massimo Introvigne summarized the Tai Ji Men case. They reported how in 1996 a politically motivated crackdown targeted several religious and spiritual movements accused, rightly or wrongly, of not having supported the ruling party Kuomintang’s candidate to the presidency, who was eventually elected. Among the groups targeted was Tai Ji Men, which Wang introduced shortly as a menpai (similar to a school) of martial arts and self-cultivation rooted in esoteric Taoism, well-known for its international promotion of conscience, peace, and love.

This was paradoxical, since in fact Tai Ji Men had not taken any political position. The leader of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, his wife, and two dizi were arrested and accused of fraud and tax evasion by a prosecutor who accompanied the arrests with a media campaign where all sorts of false accusations, including the ridiculous one of raising goblins, were spread against the movement.

Eventually, justice prevailed. Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were found not guilty of any charge, and even received compensation for the unjust detention. However, the tax case continued with a life of its own, and the National Taxation Bureau (NTB), ignoring the fact that the judges in the criminal case had concluded there has never been any tax evasion, continued to issue tax bills against Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong.

Only after a long legal battle did Tai Ji Men obtain that all tax bills be corrected to zero—except one, for the year 1992, for which the NTB claimed that the statute of limitations had expired. Based on this technicality and on the tax bill for 1992, the 2020 seizure happened, generating what became the most massive protests for religious liberty in the history of Taiwan, with thousands taking to the streets.

The video of the press conference.

As Introvigne emphasized, the Tai Ji Men case is not a question of money. Other groups that were victims of the 1996 crackdown settled their tax cases, and Tai Ji Men might have settled as well, perhaps spending less than the cost of its legal fees. However, Tai Ji Men and Dr. Hong have visited many countries in the world teaching diverse audiences to uphold conscience and be good citizens.

They cannot admit, first and foremost because it is not true, that they were bad citizens, did not follow conscience, and evaded taxes. For this reason, they refused to settle, and keep asking that the truth is acknowledged that they did not violate any tax law. They are obviously right, Introvigne said, because nothing different with respect to how dizi gave gifts to their shifu (master) happened in 1992 that did not happen in the other years. Courts of law, and the same NTB for the years other than 1992, have acknowledged that this gift-giving activity is tax-exempt.

The conference poster.
The conference poster.

Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, insisted that the Tai Ji Men case is not a technical tax case but a double violation of human rights. First, it is a violation of freedom of religion or belief (FORB), because the tax case derives from the 1996 crackdown on religious liberty. Second, it is a violation of human rights through corruption. The United Nations have recognized that corruption violates human rights by preventing citizens from fully enjoying them.

The bureaucrats who persecuted Tai Ji Men, Fautré said, were motivated by corruption and in particular by the immoral system granting bonuses to those who impose tax bills and enforce them. Restoring human rights, Fautré concluded, demands that these bureaucrats be prosecuted and punished, and the sacred land illegally seized given back to Tai Ji Men.

A video presented the experience of the dizi who were arrested in 1996. Despite being later recognized as totally innocent, they were mistreated by the police, creating a climate of terror among the whole Tai Ji Men community.

Brenda Chen, a Tai Ji Men dizi, also revisited the terrible events of 1996, and told how the destruction of her family’s reputation because of the slander campaign against the movement and the unjust arrest of her father led her to move to the United States. With tears in her eyes, Brenda said that, “Even though no one accused my dad of any crime, he was detained and held incommunicado for four months by the prosecutor! By means of hunger, fatigue and threat, the prosecutor just wanted my dad to testify against my shifu.”

At the time, because of the prosecutor’s slander campaign against Tai Ji Men, her family was discriminated against, Brenda said. Her sister received a threatening note at school. Her father and mother, respectively a chief financial officer of a famous technology company and an editor at Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice, were forced to retire early. Their careers and reputations were ruined, and they suffered tremendous emotional and financial losses. Seven years ago, her dad passed away with regret, unable to see the redress of the Tai Ji Men case he had hoped for for all his life, Brenda lamented.

A joint statement by the worldwide Tai Ji Men community was then read by dizi Jeff Chen. The statement summarized the main events of the Tai Ji Men case, and denounced the illegal actions by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen and the National Taxation Bureau. The statement highlighted how Tai Ji Men’s freedom of religion or belief was severely harmed, over ten thousand families were persecuted, and the international mission of  the movement for promoting conscience, peace,  and love was seriously hindered. The statement demanded that what is now much more than a local tax case be solved by Taiwanese authorities without delay.

The lighting ceremony.
The lighting ceremony.

After a spectacular lighting ceremony of a sign with the word “TRUTH,” Introvigne wrapped up the event’s meaning by insisting that the wrong impression that the Tai Ji Men’s case is a purely domestic Taiwan tax case, best left for Taiwanese lawyers to solve, should be dispelled. In fact, the Tai Ji Men case is a human rights and religious liberty case with international implications. It is precisely because it is mistaken for a mere local administrative issue that the case is not solved.

Introvigne asked the international organizations and the U.S. agencies advocating for human rights globally to tell the Taiwanese government that it is in the interest of justice and in Taiwan’s own best interest to find a political solution for a case that proved it does not have any possible administrative or legal solution. Political solutions are always possible. Taiwan’s friends should tell its government that in the case of Tai Ji Men a political solution is also necessary and urgent, Introvigne concluded.