During the largest religious liberty gathering of 2021, panelists re-examined the long-lasting religious liberty and tax case in Taiwan.
by Massimo Introvigne
The International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington DC, hosted by former U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback on July 13-15, 2021, was the largest and most important religious freedom event of the year. It built on the extraordinary success of the previous Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom, organized when Brownback was active in his governmental religious liberty mission.
The event consisted of a main program and side events. One of the latter, A Question of Justice: The Tai Ji Men Case was organized by Action Alliance to Redress 1219, a coalition created to seek justice in the long-lasting tax case of Tai Ji Men, a spiritual movement with a total 15 academies in the US and Taiwan, teaching martial arts, Qigong and self-cultivation based on esoteric Taoism to the benefit of tens of thousands of dizi (disciples) worldwide. 1219 represents December 19, 1996, the day marking the beginning of Tai Ji Men’s long years of suffering.
After a short video about the activities of Tai Ji Men, a movement that is internationally famous for its peace-promoting initiatives, the movie I directed, A Question of Justice, was shown to the audience, followed by my comments. The movie offers a summary of a 25-year-long persecution. Tai Ji Men was among the victims in 1996 of a politically motivated crackdown against spiritual movements suspected of not supporting the President who had won the elections in Taiwan, although in fact Tai Ji Men took no political stance. Tai Ji Men’s leader, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, his wife, and two disciples (dizi) went through the humiliation of being arrested and incriminated. From this odyssey, they emerged victorious, declared innocent of all charges, including the alleged tax evasion up to Taiwan’s Supreme Court, and even received national compensation for their previous unjust detention.
However, based on the faulty criminal indictment, the National Taxation Bureau(NTB) had accused Dr. Hong of tax evasion. It simply ignored the decision of the Supreme Court in the criminal case and continued to issue tax bills for the years 1991 to 1996. Eventually, it reduced to zero tax bills for all years, but maintained the one for 1992, claiming Tai Ji Men had exhausted all appeals for that year, and so the NTB was unable to revoke it. This was not logical, as the tax bills for the other years and 1992 were essentially the same. Obviously, if there was no tax evasion for the other years, no taxes were evaded in 1992 either, but, deaf to the recommendations of courts of laws, more than 300 members of the Taiwanese Parliament, and international scholars and human rights activists, the NTB maintained its illegal bill, and the Administrative Enforcement Agency unlawfully forced the auction and then seized land belonging to Dr. Hong and intended for a self-cultivation center of Tai Ji Men, generating massive street protests.
Professor Kenneth Jacobsen, a professor of law at Philadelphia’s Temple University, took the podium and summarized his legal research on the Tai Ji Men case. He expressed his love and respect for Taiwan, yet he noted that its reputation would seriously suffer if the injustices were not redressed and the Tai Ji Men case were not solved.
A witness from Tai Ji Men expressed the excitement of being part of the International Religious Freedom Summit, the pain for the injustice vested on the group, and the hope that the event may contribute to a solution of the long-lasting case in Taiwan. The United Nations ECOSOC-accredited NGO Association of World Citizens also sent a message expressing its support.
A video presented the sad story of the property in the Swiss Mountain Villa community in Xizhi, Taiwan, bought as a learning center for Tai Ji Men and a place where dizi coming from abroad could be hosted. The property was frozen and used as a collateral for the tax case. It was given back to Dr. Hong only in 2020, 23 years and 5 months and 7 days after a restraint on its disposition was first imposed on him in 1997, but it was by then in a hopeless state of disrepair.
The English edition of the book Who Stole Their Youth? devoted to the generation of dizi who spent their youth protesting for the case was then introduced. At the summit, another book was also available in the booth of Action Alliance to Redress 1219, collecting the articles published by Bitter Winter (and some scholarly studies from The Journal of CESNUR) about the Tai Ji Men case.
A beautiful song, “Love,” gave the audience a taste of what Tai Ji Men brought to 101 countries, promoting a message of peace and love. As both I and Professor Jacobsen remarked in the end, it is now time to move from speeches to action. As Jacobsen said, “It is never too late to do the right thing.”