A seminar in Pasadena discussed the global significance of the Tai Ji Men case and the proposal of an International Day Against Judicial and Tax Persecution by State Power.
by Alessandro Amicarelli
An article already published in Bitter Winter on December 28th, 2022.
On December 19, 2022, a seminar was organized at the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Pasadena, California, by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, the Belgian-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers, the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy, the Association of World Citizens, Action Alliance to Redress 1219, the website TaiJiMenCase.org, and FOREF (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe).
The seminar’s title was “Global Solidarity with Tai Ji Men: 26th Anniversary of the Raid Which Began the Tai Ji Men Case.” It was organized on the 26th anniversary of the raid that started the Tai Ji Men case, on December 19, 1996; on the eve of the United Nations Human Solidarity Day, December 20; and to support the proposal of an International Day Against Judicial and Tax Persecution by State Power, to be observed on December 19.
The event was introduced by Judy Lee, a Tai Ji Men dizi. She presented a video that described the problems of tax justice in Taiwan and called for tax reform through the voices of prominent politicians and experts. Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, then delivered a powerful message advocating for the establishment of an International Day Against Judicial and Tax Persecution by State Power. While he mentioned the Tai Ji Men case, he clarified that this day would be for all those whose human rights are violated by states through ill-founded legal and tax actions throughout the world.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who is the managing director of CESNUR and the editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, noted that for sociologists solidarity became a key concept with the doctoral dissertation of Émile Durkheim, one of the fathers of the science of sociology, which was published in 1893. Durkheim claimed that solidarity is the cement of all human societies. He also distinguished between two forms of solidarity.
“Mechanic solidarity,” typical of premodern societies, was based on religious and other values that a vast majority shared. “Organic solidarity” defines modern societies, where citizens have very different religious and political opinions but understand nonetheless that they should cooperate and accept that the state should regulate their differences.
Durkheim, Introvigne explained, acknowledged that even modern societies can only prosper if, in addition to organic solidarity, a modicum of mechanic solidarity survives, and citizens find and share some common values and narratives. Dr. Hong and Tai Ji Men, Introvigne said, have identified the common reference that may unite citizens with different religions and opinions: conscience. Since conscience also calls to resist corruption, he concluded, it is not surprising that corrupt bureaucrats were afraid of Tai Ji Men and persecuted it.
Peter Zoehrer, an Austrian journalist who serves as executive director of FOREF, reminded the audience of what happened on December 19, 1996, something he called “a terrible tragedy” characterized by the use of “brutal force” at the instigation of a prosecutor who systematically violated the law. The tragedy continued for 26 years through tax harassment—but that does not mean that the Tai Ji Men case is a pure tax case, Zoehrer said. It is a case of freedom of religion or belief, human rights, and denial of the basic principles of civil solidarity as defined by international documents.
Zoehrer introduced two other speakers who spoke via videos: Marco Respinti, an Italian scholar and journalist and the director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, and Karolina Maria Hess, a researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland.
Respinti focused on the International Human Solidarity Day, and noted that solidarity is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Its Chapter IV is entirely devoted to solidarity. However, solidarity is considered there in its economic dimension, and Chapter IV protects the workers’ rights in the workplace. Solidarity, Respinti said, is more than this, and Chapter IV of the Charter should be read in connection with its Article 33, which recognizes the rights of the family.
Family, Respinti insisted, is where solidarity lives. In the Tai Ji Men case, he commented, entire families of dizi (disciples) participated in the protests and became witnesses to that solidarity, interacting with other families and the larger “human family.” They promoted both justice for Tai Ji Men and a global justice based on conscience.
Karolina Maria Hess noted that our world is characterized by both a growing awareness of human rights and freedom of religion and belief, and by their violations that continue in several countries. Democratic regimes may also be guilty of such violations, she said. The events of December 19, 1996, she added, proved that in Taiwan the hopes of democracy created by the end of the Martial Law in 1989 had been betrayed. Citizens of Taiwan, she concluded, still call for a full-blown democracy, but this requires a solution of the Tai Ji Men case.
Davide Suleyman Amore, an Italian Muslim historian of religions, a member of the Italian Association of History of Religions (SISR), and the secretary of “As-Salàm” Islamic Cultural Association, which manages a mosque where he sometimes serves as Imam, noted the connection between International Human Solidarity Day and the anniversary of the raids that started the Tai Ji Men case in 1996. Confronted with injustice, Tai Ji Men dizi exhibited a strong solidarity between themselves and with their Shifu. More recently, this solidarity has extended to dozens of scholars and human rights activists who support Tai Ji Men from all over the world, he said.
Amore quoted texts from the Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s Hadiths on solidarity. He noted that for Muslims solidarity is a natural human feeling but should be cultivated to be put into practice. Similar teachings are also found in Tai Ji Men, and indeed in many religions and spiritual schools, which explains, he said, why women and men of different faiths now cooperate and call for a just solution of the Tai Ji Men case.
Ann Chen, an attorney from California, reminisced about her experiences in advocating for Tai Ji Men, including by participating in the International Religious Freedom Summit 2022 in Washington DC. As both a dizi and a lawyer, Chen said, she analyzed the Tai Ji Men case, and found that one of the problems is that Taiwan maintains a tax system that she called “nonsensical,” under which protecting the human rights of taxpayers becomes impossible. Taiwan, she said, is not the only example in the world of gross state injustices, but it is one evidencing why an International Day Against Judicial and Tax Persecution by State Power is an idea whose time has come.
Kok Chian Leong, a senior university lecturer based in London, noted that solidarity is a key United Nations value and should also inspire governments in how they deal with their citizens. One example he mentioned is that, when they collect more taxes than they expected, several democratic governments distribute the surplus among their taxpayers. However, the government of Taiwan does not do this, which is evidence of an attitude to taxes that is not respectful of the taxpayers’ rights. This dangerous attitude is also demonstrated by the Tai Ji Men case, Leong said.
Tim Chi, a doctor of musical arts, noted that Article 13 of the Constitution of Taiwan explicitly protects religious freedom. While not part of the United Nations, Taiwan also repeatedly declared its willingness to comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and made the two main UN Covenants on human rights part of its domestic law.
Nonetheless, Chi said, these principles were not respected when the Tai Ji Men case was started in 1996, and continue not to be respected today as the case has still not been solved. Chi expressed the hope that the 26th anniversary of the 1996 raid would be an opportunity for the Taiwan government to hear and answer the many international voices that are calling for justice for Tai Mi Men.
Brad Lo, an application engineer in the semiconductor industry, emphasized the importance of a system of checks and balances to harmonize the different state powers and guarantee a real democracy. He analyzed the Tai Ji Men case, and other cases of tax injustice, to conclude that this system does not really work in Taiwan. Only a solution of the Tai Ji Men case and a genuine tax reform would prove that an effective checks and balances system is now protecting Taiwan’s democracy, Lo said.
Felicia Tsou, a chartered public accountant, reported that all her extended family, some twenty people, joined Tai Ji Men in 1994 and 1995, just on time to suffer discrimination and slander in 1996. However, the experience of seeing all her family learning and growing together as dizi was a source of great joy. This joy was never separated, however, from the sadness and anguish for the Tai Ji Men case. Her reaction was to fight for justice, not only for Tai Ji Men but for many others who suffer for tax and legal injustice in Taiwan, which is evidence of systemic problems and a lack of solidarity between the government and its citizens.
Alan Hong, a college student, proposed an evidence-based analysis of the Tai Ji Men case. In a legal or administrative case, evidence should be used to find the truth. However, in the Tai Ji Men case decisions were taken based not on evidence but on the biases and political aims of the prosecutor who started the case and of some politicians and bureaucrats. Dysfunctional systems that are not evidence-based demonstrate wider problems within the institutions, and in fact the Tai Ji Men protests led many to speak out and report similar cases of legal and tax injustice in Taiwan, Hong said. Legal and tax reform is thus a matter of urgency.
Chiwen Su, a design artist and housewife, emphasized that Tai Ji Men had powerfully contributed to the well-being of thousands of Taiwanese and the good image of Taiwan abroad, but has been repaid with discrimination and persecution. Yet Tai Ji Men continues to remind the world that, no matter whether you are praised or persecuted, you should continue to express solidarity towards all human beings.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, offered the conclusions of the webinar. He noted that both December 19 and December 20 are important days for Tai Ji Men. Immediately after December 19, the day of injustice, came December 20, the day of solidarity, and a wonderful solidarity started among dizi that has now become international. Fautré quoted Dr. Hong’s comment that a persecution without blood is not a persecution without pain: legal and tax abuse by states may be as painful as bloody repression. He expressed his sympathy for Dr. Hong’s proposal of an International Day Against Judicial and Tax Persecution by State Power and called all friends of human rights to support it.
A video where the truth about the Tai Ji Men case was presented in a rock and roll musical form concluded the event.