The Judicial Day 2024 and the presidential elections in Taiwan should offer an opportunity to finally solve a case that has lasted for more than 27 years.

by Karolina Maria Kotkowska

An article already published in Bitter Winter on January 12th, 2024.

Chinese and British signatories of the treaty of January 11, 1943. Credits.
Chinese and British signatories of the treaty of January 11, 1943. Credits.

On January 11, 2024, Taiwan celebrates its 81st Judicial Day. This commemorates the day in 1943 when the Republic of China’s judicial system achieved independence, free from foreign jurisdiction. The independence of courts may, however, signify not only their autonomy from the influences of other countries, as was the case preceding the situation in the Republic of China in 1943. At times, courts become a significant element in a country’s internal political games, which could also pose a realistic threat to democracy.

For the past eight years in Poland, a populist party has been in power, utilizing transformations within the judiciary as one of its operational tools, allowing for control over various spheres. This has resulted in the public perception shift where courts ceased to be seen as independent entities, and judges as impartial figures. Even within the Supreme Court, recent rulings have cast doubt upon the neutrality of verdicts. Instances occurred where, following unfavorable judgments for the ruling party, judges were dismissed, undoubtedly contributing to a decline in trust. The actions associated with the breach of the principles governing the functioning of the courts and the Constitutional Tribunal triggered a wave of protests across the entire country. Ultimately, this became one of the primary points of criticism, leading, in the previous calendar year, to a change in power in Poland through democratic elections.

Protests in Poland on June 4, 2023, against the government’s attempts to control the judiciary. Credits.
Protests in Poland on June 4, 2023, against the government’s attempts to control the judiciary. Credits.

In 1996, significant events unfolded in Taiwan reflecting the shadows of its authoritarian history—instances of crackdowns on spiritual groups. These measures were, essentially, targeted persecutions directed at those who did not support the political party that achieved Taiwan’s initial direct presidential election victory. Some groups were branded as “xie jiao,” were accused of practicing black magic, and encountered suppression. Despite exercising caution to avoid aligning with any political faction, Tai Ji Men found itself embroiled in the crackdown. The authorities orchestrated a highly publicized affair involving both politics and the media—conducting raids on several groups. Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the Grand Master (Shifu) of Tai Ji Men, along with his wife and two disciples, was detained during this period.

In the case of Tai Ji Men, the prosecutor preparing their persecution adeptly and maliciously manipulated the media to construct a narrative that justified their unlawful repression. Numerous articles in Taiwanese media disseminated various unfounded accusations during this period.

The Tai Ji Men case made its way to the Supreme Court, where those accusing the movement suffered a defeat. The criminal division of Taiwan’s Supreme Court delivered the final ruling on July 13, 2007, exonerating all defendants associated with Tai Ji Men, affirming their innocence regarding all charges including tax evasion. Dr. Hong and his fellow defendants, who had been previously detained, were granted a compensation for their unjust imprisonment.

Here we could focus on the positive aspect of the Tai Ji Men case, related to the day that celebrates the independence of the judiciary. Unfortunately, however, this wasn’t the end of unjust actions against this group even if no one had committed a crime. Certain National Taxation Bureau bureaucrats chose to disregard the court decision. As a result, they continued—and continue to this day—their unjustified pursuit of actions based on a non-existing tax evasion. Injustices and various forms of violence are issued that Tai Ji Men has been grappling with for over two decades. This is unimaginable, especially in the context of the Supreme Court’s verdict. One could say that while the court’s ruling didn’t fail in this instance, the entire system, which should guarantee the dispensed justice, failed.

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

Every election is, in a sense, a celebration—a celebration of democracy. For this reason, Taiwan commemorates a dual occasion this week—not only the Judicial Day but also the presidential elections, seen as a beacon of hope for fostering positive changes and steering the country in the right direction. The judicial system should guarantee justice. Respecting Supreme Court rulings is crucial for upholding the rule of law and maintaining the integrity of the judicial system. The division between court decisions on one side and the lack of proper adherence to them by another authority constitutes an important and challenging aspect of Taiwanese democracy.

In the Tai Ji Men case, fundamental human rights were violated. The existing law, or rather the lack of its enforcement, has led to the Tai Ji Men case lingering for over a quarter of a century. The time has come for democracy to prevail, and for the Tai Ji Men case to be finally addressed in accordance with the law and conscience. Therefore, I urge the winners of the presidential elections to take the Tai Ji Men case into their hands and put an end to the suffering of innocent victims. Let justice prevail.