Two webinars on the U.N. Day for the Right to the Truth on Gross Human Rights Violation examined the respective role of slander and advocacy, and launched a new website.

by Alessandro Amicarelli

An article already published in Bitter Winter on April 1st, 2022.

The poster of the European webinar.
The poster of the European webinar.

March 24 is the United Nations International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of the Victims. The date commemorates the politically motivated assassination of the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, San Salvador, Óscar Arnulfo Romero on March 24, 1980.

CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religion, and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized two of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case on this U.N. day of observance. A European seminar was held under the title “The Truth, Please, on the Tai Ji Men Case,” and one intended for a North American audience on “Seeking the Truth About the Tai Ji Men Case.”

The video of the European webinar.

One paper was presented in both webinars. Daniela Bovolenta, who works with Bitter Winter, introduced the new website she helped setting out, which will collect more than one hundred documents, articles, scholarly studies, and videos about the Tai Ji Men case. It will also include a short introduction to the case and a detailed chronology.

Bovolenta said that the articles published by Bitter Winter have been a powerful tool to alert the world to the truth about the Tai Ji Men case. She quoted French novelist Victor Hugo, who wrote that “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” concluding that, “The time for the idea of conscience, truth, and justice for Tai Ji Men has come.”

The European webinar was introduced by Willy Fautré, who mentioned how discovering the truth about the Tai Ji Men case has been a long process, as several forces tried to hide the truth behind a curtain of disinformation and lies. He then introduced a video, “Raging Fire,” recapitulating not only the essential features of the Tai Ji Men case but also the immense suffering it caused to thousands of dizi (disciples).

An image of the European webinar.
An image of the European webinar.

Massimo Introvigne, managing director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, illustrated the relationship between truth, time, and human rights, commenting a famous painting by Italian baroque artist Annibale Carracci called “An Allegory of Truth and Time.” In the painting, Truth has been confined in a well by Lie, and is lifted out of it by Time, allowing Peace and Love to triumph.

As usual in Western art, Truth is also naked, meaning that it is basically simple, and “clothing” it too much would only make its perception more difficult. This was, Introvigne said, the first painting connecting Truth with a well from which she should come out, a theme that after Carracci will be used by several other painters, and explicitly connected to human rights in the 19th century. It is, he added, a fit allegory for the Tai Ji Men case, whose truth was kept hidden by liars and slanderers until, with the passing of time, it slowly came out of the well, a process many in the world are now supporting.

Francesco Curto, an attorney in Turin, Italy, and the President of Fedinsieme (Faith Together), offered a legal view on the truth about the Tai Ji Men case. He said he suspects that the root cause of the persecution is the powerful and successful promotion of human rights and peace by Dr. Hong, the leader of Tai Ji Men.

As it often happens, not everybody liked this activity, and a campaign to slander Dr. Hong and hide the truth started. Eventually, the truth came out, but a concerted international campaign is still needed to broadcast this truth to the world, until the Taiwan government will also accept it and act to solve the case, Curto said.

Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, celebrated the work of both dizi and scholars to let the truth about Tai Ji Men be known. He introduced the first video of the new series “Unbreakable Bond,” which proposes a very detailed chronology and analysis of what happened to Tai Ji Men, year after year and injustice after injustice.

From the first episode of “Unbreakable Bonds.”
From the first episode of “Unbreakable Bonds.”

Respinti then presented another video, featuring the speech of Attorney Jim Chang, vice chairperson of Taiwan Jury Association, at the event of December 19, 2021, which commemorated the 25th anniversary of the persecution of Tai Ji Men. Chang, who was in Taiwan’s headline news a few days before the webinar because his office and residence were searched by the police and the prosecutor, causing bar associations to protest and ask that lawyers’ professional rights be protected, denounced the systemic problems of Taiwan’s administrative and tax bureaucracy, and the gross injustice of the Tai Ji Men case.

Tiffany Shao, an engineer in a world-leading semiconductor industry, reported her experience when she participated with Dr. Hong in the 8th International Conference on Human Rights Education in Montreal, Canada, and learned about the injustices perpetrated against First Nation children for several decades in boarding schools they were compelled to attend.

At least, Shao said, after the end of that period Canada recognized it had a problem of transitional justice, and started apologizing to and indemnifying the First Nation families and communities so affected. In contrast, Taiwan is still struggling to implement an effective system of post-authoritarian transitional justice. Shao reported several cases of families of Tai Ji Men dizi badly affected by the persecution, and expressed the hope that Taiwan will follow the example of Canada and effectively rectify past injustices.

Nick Tan, who works in a financial company, reported that he visited fifteen countries with Dr. Hong, supporting Tai Ji Men’s efforts to spread a culture of conscience, peace, and love. He insisted on a particular experience that impressed him mightily, i.e., witnessing the meeting between Dr. Hong and the then Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jingme Thinley.

They met in Thinley’s villa halfway up the mountains of Bhutan, and as they discussed the crises of the world and how to spread peace and happiness, Tan said, the two wise men radiated love and benevolence. Tan contrasted this idyllic harmony with the violent attitude of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen and others who persecuted Tai Ji Men, and expressed the hope that “the beauty of human nature” may ultimately prevail on “the evil of abusive government officials.”

Clare Huang, a graduate student at the School of Public Health at National Taiwan University, shared her experience of attending last year a conference on “Beware of Toxic Taxes,” organized by legislator Lee Gui-Min and the Chinese Human Rights Association. She learned many sad stories, including of one Ms. Li who had to pay an exorbitant luxury tax on a home even if she was a first-time homebuyer and believed she was exempted, which eventually led her to serious financial problems and divorce.

These stories, as well as the Tai Ji Men case, demonstrate that the tax problems of Taiwan are systemic rather than occasional, and a comprehensive reform is needed, Huang concluded.

Clare Huang at the webinar.
Clare Huang at the webinar.

Anna Chao, an elementary school teacher, reported that in Taiwan’s schools every month teachers promote a theme of moral education, and the theme for March was “Justice.” Chao said that for her “justice” is not an abstract word. She suffered injustice when she was a student and a young dizi, and the Tai Ji Men case started, and this injustice is still with her today. Injustice, Chao said, does not go away easily.

Although courts of law vindicated Dr. Hong and his co-defendants and established their innocence, Chao noted that many still remember the old media slander when they hear Tai Ji Men mentioned, while tax bureaucrats still refuse to accept the truth.

Wu Chih-Chung, Vice President of a biomedical company and a volunteer of the Tax and Legal Reform League, reported how he encountered the notion of “fascism” outlined by the Nobel Prize laureate African American writer Toni Morrison, which emphasizes the demonization of the opponents and the silence on the wrongdoings of those who violated human rights.

Wu believes this notion of “fascism” to be also at work on how bureaucrats in Taiwan have demonized Tai Ji Men and silenced the truth. As the world repudiates fascism, it is great time for Taiwan to correct the injustice and punish the rogue bureaucrats, Wu said.

Konrad Swenninger, founder of the Danish NGO Soteria International, summarized the highlights of the European webinar, and saluted the new web site as a powerful tool for proclaiming to the world the truth about the Tai Ji Men case. He also mentioned the connection of Gandhi’s concept of “satyagraha” with telling the truth as a pre-condition to fight injustice.

The European webinar concluded with a video featuring a Tai Ji Men song and prayer for peace, love, and conscience, something very much needed in the present time of international crisis.

Introducing the American webinar.

The American webinar was introduced by Massimo Introvigne. He presented the video “A Battle for Justice,” a documentary created by 8th-grader from Southern California Michelle Chen, with her friend Jamie Situ, for National History Day. Michelle then explained how she produced the documentary, and expressed the hope scholars and human rights activists can enjoy it, too.

Stephen Enada, President and co-founder of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON), a Baptist pastor, and a well-known human rights activist, noted that the United Nations day of observance we celebrate is a call to tell the world the truth about violations of human rights and religious liberty, including the Tai Ji Men case. He also reminded the audience of initiatives in Washington D.C., including the second International Religious Freedom Summit, and urged Tai Ji Men to participate.

Kenneth A. Jacobsen, Practice Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia, observed that the United Nations day of observance celebrated on March 24 has two dimensions: first, truth on gross violations of human rights, and second, dignity for the victims.

We know the truth about the Tai Ji Men case, but knowing the truth calls for effective remedies, Jacobsen said, and so far, the government of Taiwan has failed to implement these remedies. And we should not forget, he added, the dignity of the victims too, and take the opportunity of this day to honor and celebrate Dr. Hong and all the Tai Ji Men dizi who became victims of injustice.

A view of the American webinar.
A view of the American webinar.

Holly Folk, a professor of Religious Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, observed that in these days many, with good reasons, are concerned about the attitude of Russia, a country that among other problems persecutes religious and spiritual movements it labels as “cults.” While Taiwan is a democracy she respects and admires, Folk said, the Tai Ji Men case shows that prejudice and discrimination of religious minorities is something it may have in common with Russia.

On the other hand, she noted, granting full religious freedom to all minorities find obstacles coming from different categories of opponents also in democratic countries, and even in the United States problems of religious liberty sometimes surface. Discrimination, however, has dangerous political implications, Folk said, and she expressed the hope that the government of Taiwan will understand the dangers it remains exposed to by not solving the Tai Ji Men case.

The full video of the American webinar.

Willy Fautré introduced the video with the second episode of “Unbreakable Bond,” and presented the testimonies of five Tai Ji Men dizi. Alan Shih, who works as a senior operation manager for an American company, returned to the theme, often discussed in webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, of transitional justice. The fact that justice has not been restored to Tai Ji Men is evidence, Shih said, that President Tsai Ing-Wen’s promise made in her 2020 reelection campaign of finally implementing transitional justice in post-authoritarian Taiwan has still not been kept.

Shih quoted the words of former legislator Luo Shu-Lei, who said that “if the Tai Ji Men case is not resolved, there will be no human rights in Taiwan.” Shih also discussed the already mentioned case, which occurred on March 21, 2022, of attorney Jimmy Chang, whose rights as lawyer were violated, creating great concern and raising questions about the persistent presence of authoritarianism in Taiwan.

Howard Kuan, a first-year college student in Taiwan, told the audience that “tax bombs” keep exploding in Taiwan. Although not as deadly as the bombs in the Ukrainian war, they still cause casualties, and the main casualties are truth and justice.

Kuan reported the inordinate expansion of new cases of tax and government fee arrears pending for enforcement in Taiwan, from 1.9 million in 2001 to 14.31 million in 2021. These figures are not normal, and point to the existence of a problem. Several specific cases, including the one of Tai Ji Men, demonstrate that this expansion unfortunately happens at the expenses of taxpayers’ human rights, Kuan said.

Sandy Lin, an accounting specialist from California, shared her experience of traveling with Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men’s Bell of World Peace and Love. She is sure the Bell will play a great role in restoring peace after the tragedies of war we are currently witnessing. Lin expressed her shock that such a benevolent organization as Tai Ji Men has met with persecution and harassment through taxes in Taiwan.

She reported on her and her fellow dizi’s efforts to witness for justice on the Tai Ji Men case in the United States, but lamented that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) refused four times to meet with them as they had requested. Truth, Lin said, also means that Taiwan’s government should confront its past mistakes, acknowledge, and correct them.

Robin Liang, a Taiwan firefighter, reported how, in addition to her demanding work, she also accompanied Dr. Hong to important international events, including the 2016 International Folklore Festival in Gulpilhares, Portugal, and the 2017 World Leader Summit of Love and Peace in Midtown Manhattan, New York. She said that firefighters are also called in cases of suicide.

She mentioned cases of suicide and attempted suicide of Taiwanese citizens ruined by unjust taxes. This is a poisoned fruit, Liang commented, of the system granting to bureaucrats bonused on the tax bills they impose on taxpayers, a system that in the interest of justice should be eliminated. An amateur singer, she concluded by singing a song she had composed with words referred to the injustice vested on Tai Ji Men.

Robin Liang presents her song.
Robin Liang presents her song.

A video by Wang Yi-Wen, a marketing specialist in a building material company, revisited some key events of the Tai Ji Men case: the political purge of 1996, the persecution and slander campaign of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, his manipulation of the tax system to continue his vendetta against Tai Ji Men even after courts of law had declared the defendants innocent of all criminal charges (including tax evasion).

All these events, Wang said, demonstrated that some officers and bureaucrats in Taiwan totally disregarded truth and justice, which “brought disaster to the entire country,” and created a situation in urgent need of being rectified. She then presented a video of her speech for the International Women’s Day, March 8, where she had testified on the sufferings of the wife of Dr. Hong, who was also arrested in 1996 and eventually found not guilty of any charge, and other Tai Ji Men women unjustly persecuted.

Marco Respinti offered the conclusions of the webinar, presenting it as part of a sequence of events that should be read as a whole, something the new website will make easier. Respinti said that what happened to Tai Ji Men is first, a case of justice delayed and denied; second, a case of violation of freedom of religion or belief; third, a case of human rights violations. On all these three aspects of the case, unveiling the truth is needed.

The concluding videos returned to the world tours of Dr. Hong and the dizi, who visited 101 countries spreading a message of peace and love, and offered an example of beautiful Taiwanese opera singing by Robin Liang. It is Tai Ji Men’s highly beneficial spiritual, cultural, and humanitarian activity, all the speakers said, that has been slowed down by a totally ill-founded and unjust administrative, legal, and tax persecution. This is the truth the world needs to hear about the Tai Ji Men case.