At the 51st session of the United Nations body, a written statement has been presented about the appeal of international scholars and human rights activists for a solution of the case.

by Massimo Introvigne

An article already published in Bitter Winter on September 22th, 2022.

Room of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, with the ceiling decorated by Spanish painter Miquel Barceló. Credits.
Room of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, with the ceiling decorated by Spanish painter Miquel Barceló. Credits.

For reasons we all know, Taiwan is not a member of the United Nations. However, the UN Human Rights Council has a broad mandate and can investigate human rights violations everywhere in the world. It is also the case that what happens in Taiwan may be a symptom of similar human rights diseases that also affect other countries and regions.

For this reason, the Tai Ji Men case has been repeatedly presented at the UN Human Rights Council, generating widespread interest.

On November 9, 2010, the Association of World Citizens, an NGO accredited with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), submitted a 1503 procedure to the Human Rights Council about the Tai Ji Men case. A 1503 procedure is a complaint denouncing a case of violation of human rights and inviting the Human Rights Council to investigate.

At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, another ECOSOC-accredited NGO, CAP-LC (Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience, Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience), filed a written statement that was distributed on June 21, 2021, on how governments misuse taxes to discriminate against certain religious and spiritual organizations, a human rights abuse of which the Tai Ji Men case was offered as an egregious example.

At the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, the same CAP-LC filed another written statement, distributed on August 31, 2021, which focused on the seizure of real estate as a weapon to discriminate against religious and spiritual minorities. The case of the sacred land of Tai Ji Men seized, auctioned off, and confiscated in 2020 on the basis of an ill-founded tax bill concerning the year 1992 was the main example of the dangerous strategy presented in the statement.

A statement on corruption filed at the 49th session and distributed on February 9, 2022, also filed by CAP-LC, was the fourth document calling the attention of the Human Rights Council on the Tai Ji Men case, of which the corruption of some rogue bureaucrats was always a key factor.

Thierry Valle, President of CAP-LC, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. From Facebook.
Thierry Valle, President of CAP-LC, at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. From Facebook.

At the 50th session of the Human Rights Council, CAP-LC filed yet another statement, distributed on June 1, 2022, on the review of Taiwan’s compliance with the two main United Nations human rights covenants, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Taiwan incorporated the Two Covenants into its domestic law in 2009, and periodically asks international experts to review its performance in complying with them. However, CAP-LC noted, the most recent review of May 9–13, 2022, failed to consider the tax and freedom of religion or belief issues evidenced by the Tai Ji Men case.

The 51st session of the Human Right Council opened on September 12 and will continue until October 7, 2022. CAP-LC filed a new written statement, the sixth document on the Tai Ji Men case submitted to the Council and published on the Web site of the United Nations (the link may not open in all browsers and we also offer the document for download).

Download the statement.

CAP-LC notes that, “Throughout the world, religious minorities continue to be persecuted through various measures and strategies. Groups stigmatized and labeled as ‘cults’ are targeted in both non-democratic and democratic countries, in particular through a discriminatory use of taxes and the confiscation of their property.”

Two ongoing and alarming examples are mentioned. “In the Russian Federation, premises of the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be confiscated. Following similar decisions in other jurisdictions, on July 22, 2022, the District Court of Volgograd turned a building and a land plot belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses into state ownership. The fact that the European Court of Human Rights recently declared the ‘liquidation’ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian Federation and confiscation of their properties as contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights was ignored.”

At the same time, “in Pakistan, mosques and even cemetery plots belonging to the Ahmadiyya movement continue to be destroyed, confiscated, and vandalized, with the pretext that the very existence of these properties, which use traditional Muslim symbols, is constructed as a statement by the Ahmadis that they are Muslims, while Pakistani law stipulates that they are not.”

This twisted logic is similar to the one at work in Taiwan where, CAP-LC explains, “a spiritual movement called Tai Ji Men was among the victims of the 1996 crackdown on those religious groups that were accused of not having supported the ruling party in the presidential elections, as part of a post-authoritarian repression of independent spiritual groups.” After the Supreme Court declared Tai Ji Men defendants innocent of all charges, including tax evasion, on July 13, 2007, tax harassment continued.

Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) of all ages are part of the protests in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) of all ages are part of the protests in Taiwan.

CAP-LC also mentions that on July 13, 2022, the 15th anniversary of the July 13, 2007 Supreme Court decision, a number of leading international scholars of religion and human rights activists signed an open letter to Taiwan’s highest authorities calling for a solution of the Tai Ji Men case.

CAP-LC quotes some passages of the letter. “While the Supreme Court, [those who signed the letter] wrote, eventually declared the Tai Ji Men defendants innocent of all charges, including tax evasion, the National Taxation Bureau continued to issue ill-founded tax bills that contradicted the Supreme Court’s verdict. In 2020, based on one of these bills, sacred land of Tai Ji Men intended for a self-cultivation center was auctioned off and confiscated. The authorities claim that the confiscation is based on a final verdict [by the administrative court], which cannot be revised. It is, however, a general principle of law, fairness, and human rights that patently unjust verdicts can always be re-examined, particularly when new facts and evidence have emerged, as it has happened in the Tai Ji Men case.”

“It is now time, the letter continued, for leaving aside technicalities and finding a political solution, while protests by Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) continue […] with thousands taking to the streets,” also in the United States of America where Tai Ji Men has two academies.

Tai Ji Men, CAP-LC concludes, “never violated the law nor evaded taxes. There is thus no reason for not giving back to the movement its sacred land.”

CAP-LC tells the Human Rights Council that the Tai Ji Men Case “shows the dire consequences of using taxes and the confiscation of property as tools to discriminate and persecute religious and spiritual minorities. This is incompatible with international principles of freedom of religion or belief. CAP Liberté de Conscience asks all the authorities involved to cease and desist from these forms of discriminatory behavior.”