On July 13, 2007, the Supreme Court of Taiwan found Dr. Hong and his co-defendants innocent of all charges. But the Tai Ji Men case continued.
by Daniela Bovolenta
On July 13, 2022, CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized a webinar on “13/7: Dawn of Victory for Tai Ji Men,” to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the landmark Taiwan Supreme Court decision of July 13, 2007, which declared Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, the leader (Shifu) of Tai Ji Men, his wife and three dizi (disciples) innocent of all charges.
Karolina Maria Hess, a researcher at the Institute of Sociology, University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland, introduced the webinar and presented a video of Tai Ji Men events and activities at the International Religious Freedom Summit 2022 in Washington DC.
Hess reminded the audience that Dr. Hong and his co-defendants were arrested on December 19, 1996, as part of a political crackdown on several new religious and spiritual movements in Taiwan. They had already been found not guilty in 2003 by the Taipei District Court in first degree, and in 2006 on appeal. On July 13, 2007, exactly fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court of Taiwan put an end to the criminal case. It declared the defendants innocent of all charges, including tax evasion. Later, they received national compensation for their unjust detention.
Hess added that, although in 2007 the Supreme Court awarded Tai Ji Men a total victory, tax authorities refused to follow the verdict, which stated that there had never been any tax evasion, and continued to harass Tai Ji Men with unjust tax bills. Tai Ji Men also continues to suffer the consequences of having been labeled as a “cult” by the media instigated by the prosecutor in 1996, 1997, and beyond.
The theme of the “spectacularization” of criminal justice and the role of the media manipulated by unscrupulous prosecutors in slandering defendants through the media was discussed by Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne, managing director of CESNUR and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter. He noted that this has always been a serious problem in Italy, as discussed by Italian scholars such as Massimo Nobili and in decisions rendered against Italy by the European Court of Human Rights.
The same, Introvigne said, happened in Taiwan with the actions of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, who skillfully manipulated the media, against Tai Ji Men. International precedents, the Italian scholar noted, should have persuaded Taiwanese media that prosecutors are not always honest, and sometimes lie. This, however, did not happen and the consequences of the media slander are still haunting Tai Ji Men dizi today.
Marco Respinti, an Italian scholar and journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, noted that in Latin language and in the old Roman legal philosophy “law” was translated by two different words. “Leges” (singular: “lex”) indicated the laws enacted by the authorities. But their ultimate aim was to promote “the Law” (capital L), in Latin “ius,” i.e. an ideal of justice allowing all citizens to pursue a good life.
When “ius” is not realized, Respinti said, this indicates that there is something wrong with the “leges.” In the Tai Ji Men case, the ideal of justice was certainly not realized, as Tai Ji Men Shifu and dizi were unjustly persecuted. This raises the questions whether laws in Taiwan are adequate, or some laws should perhaps be changed.
Alessandro Amicarelli, a human rights attorney in London and the President of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), introduced a video on the ceremonies of ringing the Tai Ji Men Bell of World Peace and Love recently performed in Sweden, Turkey, and the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC. In the latter event, Amicarelli was also a speaker and he mentioned how moved he was by the passion and dedication of the dizi, including the younger ones.
Amicarelli then presented five dizi who offered their testimonies. Lily Chen an English language teacher and translator from Los Angeles shared her experience at the same events in Sweden, Turkey, and Washington DC, and reported she also spoke at the CESNUR 2022 conference at Université Laval in Quebec City last June. The bell-ringing ceremonies specially impressed her, with dignitaries such as Katrina Lantos Swett, President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, and Nancy Karigithu, Principal Secretary at the State Department for Shipping and Maritime in Kenya and Special Envoy for Maritime and Blue Economy Affairs, describing the experience as life-changing.
Amicarelli also presented the Petition launched at the Washington DC Summit in favor of Tai Ji Men and encouraged the audience to sign it.
Chen also mentioned Dr. Hong’s analysis of the Chinese word for self-cultivation, “xiu-xing,” evidencing that “xiu” means to correct our mistakes and change our actions and “xing” to put what we have learned into practice. Taiwanese bureaucrats who persecuted Tai Ji Men should also learn to correct their mistakes, Chen concluded.
Lynn Lin, a brand designer in an international technological company, reviewed in detail the activities of Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, the main instigator of persecution of Tai Ji Men in 1996 and beyond. Hou violated the law in so many ways that drawing a complete list is difficult, Lin said. He detained innocent men and women, had them mistreated in the detention centers, fabricated evidence, organized a slander campaign in the media, illegally tried to cut off electricity and water supply for the Tai Ji Men academies, and consistently lied throughout the case. Although the 2007 Supreme Court decision recognized that his charges were false, and the Control Yuan found that Hou had violated the law in multiple ways, Hou was never punished. On the contrary, he was promoted first to Deputy Director of the Anti-Corruption Agency at the Ministry of Justice, then to Director General of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the same Ministry. “This is unacceptable,” Lin said, and proves that a “culture of favoritism, corruption, and unscrupulousness” is still at work in Taiwan.
Aaron Lee, a software engineer in a technology company, stated that the purpose of the persecution, which started in 1996, was to destroy Tai Ji Men. He noted the prevalence of hatred, a very destructive human emotion, among those who persecuted Tai Ji Men. Despite all the hatred and false charges, Lee said, those who wanted to destroy Tai Ji Men failed spectacularly. It is true that Tai Ji Men’s activities were disturbed by the continuous legal and tax harassment, but the movement and its international activities actually expanded. This is due, Lee said, to Dr. Hong’s teachings telling dizi to always living a positive life and try to grow spiritually even in difficult circumstances.
Angel Ho, who works as social media manager, celebrated the July 13, 2007, Supreme Court decision as evidence that Taiwan has an independent judiciary that does not follow prosecutors blindly. Every year, she said, she celebrates the July 13 anniversary, yet every year she feels something is missing. First, the 2007 decision did not bring closure to the case because tax authorities ignored the verdict and continued to harass Tai Ji Men through tax bills. Second, the Tai Ji Men defendants received national compensation as victims of unjust detention. But where there are victims, Ho said, there are perpetrators. When victims are indemnified, perpetrators should be punished, This did not happen in Taiwan where, as mentioned earlier in the webinar, the main persecutor of Tai Ji Men, Prosecutor Hou Kuang-Yen, notwithstanding his multiple violations of law, was never punished and in fact was even promoted.
Tsai Li-Hsue, a former duty manager at Royal Delft in the Netherlands, described her work in the Association of World Citizen and the international movement for taxpayers’ rights. She attended international tax justice conferences in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Moldova. Although not a professional tax expert, she learned about taxes and interviewed international scholars, who told her about systems making it easier for taxpayers to protect their rights that have been introduced in some European countries, but do not exist in Taiwan. She hopes tax reform may be introduced in Taiwan too, in the interest not only of Tai Ji Men but of thousands of Taiwanese who have suffered because of tax injustice.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, concluded the webinar, mentioning how all papers described from different angles the “frustrating victory” of July 13, 2007. A total victory for the Tai Ji Men from the point of view of law, but in practice just a victory in a battle, while the war continued.
Conclusively, Amicarelli introduced a reduced version of the movie “Who Stole Their Youth? The Tai Ji Men Case in Taiwan,” directed by Massimo Introvigne and first introduced at the CESNUR 2022 conference in Quebec City last June. The movie and the webinar are a message sent to the government of Taiwan: in the spirit of the July 13, 2007, Supreme Court decision, solve the Tai Ji Men case.