That the rights of the defendants were violated is obvious. Yet, no effective remedies  appear to exist.

by Tsai Cheng-An*

*A paper presented at the Webinar “Protest, Conscience, and Human Rights: International Perspectives on the Tai Ji Men Case,” April 6, 2021.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on May 4th, 2021.

Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men protests in Taiwan.

I was attracted to Tai Ji Men because I believe it has preserved the traditional wisdom of maintaining good health. Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) also have the guidance of shifu (master, i.e., Dr. Hong Tao-tze) and many like-minded brothers and sisters who together, practice the cultivation of the heart.

There is, however, another side of the story. For the past 25 years, all legal means have been exhausted, only to see Tai Ji Men continually persecuted by an unjust judiciary and tax regime. Yet, dizi continue to do the right thing by defending democracy and upholding human rights.

Tai Ji Men is an ancient menpai (similar to a “school”) of qigong and martial arts. Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy was established in 1966 according to the laws of Taiwan. Since its inception in 1966, Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy has never had any tax issues. Why did Tai Ji Men have tax issues from 1991 to 1996? Why has the Tai Ji Men unjust case, which started in 1996, not been resolved after 25 years?

My conclusion is that the Tai Ji Men case is a typical case of human rights violations in the process of Taiwan’s transformation from an authoritarian regime to a democratic constitutional system. Even though we are now in 2021, with the rule of law and democracy and a lot of discussions of transitional justice, the fact is that the current system has not dealt with past issues of human rights violations by the state, including through its power to tax. The current remedy system is still limited to the old framework. Tai Ji Men is still struggling to have justice returned. This is an obvious violation of the responsibilities of the state enshrined in the two international covenants on human rights.

The martial law was enacted in 1949. Taiwan was under an authoritarian regime for 38 years until the martial law was revoked in 1987. Under the authoritarian regime, judicial power and legislative power served the executive power. Legal delegation was a tool for the ruling regime, and the regime under the authoritarian system had full discretion (administrative discrimination).

When the martial law was lifted on July 15, 1987, Taiwan started to shift to a new paradigm. When the Democratic Progressive Party took power for the second time in 2016, Taiwan started aligning with the Western standards of democracy. The period from 1987 to 2016 was the so-called post-authoritarian regime, during which executive power still dominated, with judicial power and legislative power being under its control. The Tai Ji Men case took place in 1996, when human rights protection was not the core value of government administration, and political authoritarianism was still a common practice by the state power.

In December 1996, Taiwan was in the post-authoritarian regime. Back then, there was an integrated procuratorial system, that is, the local prosecutors were under the supervision and command of senior and higher-ranking prosecutors. This was an important means to control the judicial power to serve political purposes. When the government launched the crackdown against some minority groups, the administrative, judiciary and tax power colluded to persecute innocent people and organizations. At that time, the government carried out a political purge against the religious organizations that supported the opponent during the presidential election. Tai Ji Men was unfortunate to get caught in this series of raid. The Tai Ji Men case was an illegal and false case made out of nothing from the beginning. It demonstrates the gross violation of law and injustice by the government.

On July 13, 2007, the Tai Ji Men criminal case was concluded by finding the defendants not guilty by the three-tier criminal court system, which also found that there had been no tax evasion. We have to understand that the tax cases were derived from the criminal case. Five out of six tax years in the dispute with tax authority were ruled in favor of Tai Ji Men. Only one year, tax year 1992, was ruled against Tai Ji Men by the administrative court in May 2005, before the criminal court finalized its rulings. The decision for tax year 1992 regarded Tai Ji Men as a cram school, and taxed Tai Ji Men accordingly. The decision is in clear conflict with the criminal court findings.

From 1992 to 2020, the authoritarian system of law and taxation constructed by the administrative courts proved it is not capable of protecting human rights, and that it functions without checks and balances. It harms basic human rights and hinders the advancement of society. It also highlights that even after 2005, administrative courts do not fully protect human rights and continue to be a tool to shield administrative power. In addition, most of the administrative court judges are not familiar with the tax law and tax codes, relying mostly on the opinions of tax agents as the basis of their rulings. As such, 93% of the tax disputes are ruled against taxpayers. The lucky 7% of taxpayers who win their cases against tax authority do not see their rights protected either. The unjust tax demands are not revoked by the administrative courts. The tax bill returned to tax authority is just “another legal sanction,” which gives it the right to issue new tax bills. The taxpayer will then have to start another battle in an administrative court. Forced to run on the never-ending treadmill, taxpayers bear the pain of suffering from abusive state power. Therefore, this so-called “ten thousand years immortal tax bill” forces the people to reincarnate in it, like a hell on earth.

In 2017, Taiwan passed the Transitional Justice Ordinance and established remedies and compensations by the state for the human rights violations caused by the authoritarian regime. The act is above criminal law, and it effectively handles cases of government violations of human rights under various authoritarian systems. However, it is a pity that the regulations define that the period of authoritarian regime is from August 15, 1945 to November 6, 1992.

Does that mean that the Taiwanese government stopped violating human rights after 1992? Of course not. The Tai Ji Men case is a typical case of human rights abuse by judiciary and tax power in 1996.

Protesting human right abuses: another image of the Tai Ji Men protests.
Protesting human right abuses: another image of the Tai Ji Men protests.

Taiwan has incorporated the two international human rights covenants in its domestic law in 2009. The two international covenants require effective remedies provided by the government. The judiciary department can use many different methods to effectively ensure that the rights stipulated by the covenants are recognized and protected in various ways, including direct application of relevant articles of the covenants, Constitutions or other relevant laws, applying similar concepts, and interpreting the laws from the perspective of the international covenants. Independent and impartial administrative agencies such as the Human Rights Commission can be established to investigate human rights violations swiftly, thoroughly, and effectively to ensure similar abuses will not be repeated.

However, Taiwan’s current remedy system does not provide effective methods after the judgment on unjust administrative sanctions has been confirmed by the administrative court. This has resulted in well-known and obvious unjust violations, and has prevented the victims from seeking justice. This constitutes a gross violation of the nation’s responsibilities under the two international covenants.

I urge President Tsai to look seriously into the many unjust cases of human rights violations caused by state violence under the post-authoritarian system after 1992. Transitional justice should not be subject to expiration. Effective legal, tax, authoritarian, transitional, and justice regulations should be formulated to solve the existing administrative problems and offer effective remedies and compensations. Retrial system for tax cases must be legalized. The ultimate goal is to ensure Taiwan honors and practices the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.