The administrative persecution of Tai Ji Men fits the definition of the United Nations Resolution 73/296.

by Massimo Introvigne*

*A paper presented at the first of four webinars on “Administrative Violence and the Tai Ji Men Case,” organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on August 22, 2021.

An article already published in Bitter Winter on September 3rd, 2021.

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

On May 28, 2019, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 73/296, which instituted the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief, to be celebrated every year on August 22. The Assembly decided to adopt a broad definition of violence. It includes “all acts of violence against persons on the basis of their religion or belief, as well as any such acts directed against their homes, businesses, properties, schools, cultural centers or places of worship.” Terrorism and the loss of human life is the worst form of religion-based violence, but is not the only one. Illegally targeting “properties” with motivations derived from the hostility to a certain religion or belief is already a form of religion- or belief-based violence.

Twenty-one years ago, in the year 2000, I published an article on “Moral Panics and Anti-Cult Terrorism in Western Europe.” The title was a provocation, and I knew there would be reactions, the more so because the article was published in the most authoritative scholarly journal on terrorism, called Terrorism and Political Violence. We were in the middle of the so-called “cult wars,” a very strong controversy between, on one side, some governments, particularly France, that were cracking down on groups labeled as “cults,” and those who supported these measures, and on the other side scholars of new religious movements who criticized them, and claimed that the distinction between good “religions” and bad “cults” did not make sense. Opponents were simply calling a “cult” any group they did not like.

Anti-cultists, i.e., those who made a profession of denouncing certain religious movements and calling them “cults,” were offended by the title of my article, as if they had been compared to al-Qa’ida or other terrorist organizations. I had chosen a defiant title on purpose, but had also offered a definition of terrorism that included hate speech, which in turn almost invariably leads to physical violence. It was also true that there had been terrorist attacks against groups labeled as “cults,” including a bomb attack against a place of worship of the Unification Church in France.

Anti-cult terrorism: after an opponent smashed her car through the front of the Church of Scientology of Austin, Texas in 2015.
Anti-cult terrorism: after an opponent smashed her car through the front of the Church of Scientology of Austin, Texas in 2015.

In 2018, eighteen years after the article on “anti-cult terrorism,” I was asked to edit a special issue on new religious movements and violence of another well-known peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Religion and Violence. Things had changed for the worse, and perhaps I had been even too timid in 2000 in denouncing “terrorism” against “cults.” By 2019, when the issue of the journal was published, there had been several physically violent attack against groups labeled as “cults,” including one that ended up in the murder of a 24-year-old Taiwanese Scientologist called Yeh Chi-Jen when a teenager excited by slanderous TV programs had illegally entered the premises of the church of Scientology in Sydney, Australia. 

In this case, terrorism and murder were perpetrated by a private individual. “State terrorism” is a controversial label, but surely there is “state violence” against religious and spiritual movements, most obviously in totalitarian regimes but most unfortunately also in democratic ones.

Remember, illegally targeting “properties” to manifest or promote hostility to religion or belief is also a form of belief-based violence. Nor are we mixing here the sacred and the profane, spirituality and money. Without places of worship, it is difficult for spiritual groups to gather, and no social organization can function without financial resources.

Another image of the Tai Ji Men protests.

What happened to Tai Ji Men was violence based on belief. It was violence in 1996, when the Academies were raided and the attack physically reached Grand Master (shifu) of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, his wife, and two dizi (disciples), who were arrested. Dr. Hong was put in jail during a very cold winter. Dizi sent him a quilt to fight the cold. However, their new quilt was replaced by an old, wet, and stinky one, which caused his whole body to itch and prevented him from sleeping. His feet become so swollen that he could hardly walk, and they came close to be amputated. In a modern democracy, this should not be tolerated in the case of a professional criminal or a guilty man, but Dr. Hong was totally innocent. The highest courts in Taiwan pronounced him innocent of all charges, and he even received compensation for the unjust detention he had suffered.

What happened to Tai Ji Men after Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were acquitted was also violence based on belief. The National Taxation Bureau and the Administrative Enforcement Agency violated Tai Ji Men’s freedom of belief by unjustly attacking their sacred land intended for self-cultivation, which is also a recognized form of belief-based violence. And during the protests, there was again some physical violence, against a woman who was peacefully demonstrating.

Make no mistake, this was never violence to protect public order or the National Taxation Bureau. It was and is belief-based violence. Tai Ji Men is targeted for its alternative beliefs and lifestyle, and independent way of thinking.

For this reason, when on the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief we repeat “Never again” remembering the horrors of the past, we also ask to stop the persecutions of the present, including the intolerable tax persecution of Tai Ji Men.