Taiwanese and international scholars, human rights activists, and local whistleblowers asked for a political solution of an issue damaging the international image of Taiwan.
by Alex Amicarelli
After the historical press conference on the Tai Ji Men case held in Washington DC on December 7, 2021, another similar event was organized in Taipei on December 29. The Taiwan Association for Financial Criminal Law Study, the Tax and Legal Reform League, and eight other civil society organizations hosted an international press conference at the National Taiwan University Alumni Association.
Asking “Who Hijacked Taiwan?” Taiwanese and international scholars and human rights activists told once again the sad story of how Tai Ji Men, a peaceful spiritual group well-known and respected for its international peace activities, fell victim to a politically motivated crackdown in 1996. Even if the highest Taiwanese courts later declared the movement and its leader Dr. Hong Tao-Tze innocent of all charges, including tax evasion, an ill-founded tax case continued and led in 2020 to the seizure, unsuccessful auction, and confiscation of sacred land intended for a Tai Ji Men self-cultivation center, generating widespread protests in Taiwan and internationally.
Chen Tze-Lung, co-founder of the Tax and Legal Reform League and former law professor at National Taiwan University, as well as a number of judicial and tax whistleblowers, detailed the numerous breaches of law committed by Taiwanese bureaucrats in their persecution of Tai Ji Men. They also commented that the Tai Ji Men case is representative of larger problems of corruption and mistreatment of taxpayers plaguing Taiwan since decades. Several participants stressed that a system of bonuses granted to tax collectors encourage tax agents to issue unjustified bills, and works as a powerful incentive for corruption.
The press conference also offered the opportunity to introduce the open letter to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, dated December 13, 2021, and signed by 25 international scholars and human rights experts, which had been submitted to her as part of Bitter Winter’s campaign stressing the urgency of a political solution for the Tai Ji Men case. “This drama [is] obviously detrimental to the hard-earned fame of Taiwan as a beacon of democracy and human rights in a region plagued by dictatorships,” the open letter stated.
The letter also reiterated that Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) do not fight about money. “They spent in legal fees only, in twenty-five years of struggles, more than they would have paid had they settled with the National Taxation Bureau. They did not settle for a reason of conscience and justice. By settling, they would have admitted that they had been guilty of tax evasion, something that is against both their principles and factual truth,” the letter observed.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, several international scholars and NGO representatives familiar with the Tai Ji Men case were not able to participate in person in the event, and spoke at the press conference through videos.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and the editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, summarized his and the magazine’s position on the Tai Ji Men case in four statements. First, all the international academics and human rights experts who spoke out on the Tai Ji Men case are friends and supporters of Taiwan. Second, as friends of Taiwan, they are concerned about Taiwan’s international reputation. It is impossible to promote Taiwan as a beacon of democracy and human rights while citizens in Taiwan continue to take to the streets complaining that their human rights have been violated. Third, Taiwan’s international image will continue to be tarnished if the Tai Ji Men case is not solved.
Failing to resolve the Tai Ji Men case is the best gift Taiwan can give to its adversaries. “To borrow a famous sentence attributed to Lenin, Introvigne said, the government is graciously supplying to its enemies the rope they will use to hang Taiwan.” Fourth, a study of the case proves that administrative authorities and courts of law will not solve the Tai Ji Men case. But since it should be solved, a political solution is the only option.
Marco Respinti, director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, insisted that it would be a mistake to regard the Tai Ji Men case as a domestic Taiwanese affair only. It affects Tai Ji Men academies abroad, and is about principles of freedom of religion and belief of international concern. “It could happen anywhere, and it could happen to all of us. In this sense, we are all Tai Ji Men now, and all of us should be concerned and engaged,” Respinti added.
Willy Fautré, founder of Human Rights Without Frontiers, added another important comment, that corruption and the use of taxes to discriminate against spiritual movements is not solely an issue of tax law but a violation of freedom of religion or belief. Fautré added his voice to others in observing that “the system of tax bonuses granted to public servants can lead to undue fiscal and judicial harassment for years and even decades. It also proves that this system is a form of organized corruption inside the state.”
Camelia Marin, deputy director of the NGO Soteria International, expressed her surprise that National Taxation Bureau bureaucrats in Taiwan can disobey decisions of courts and get away with it. All states need money, she said, but unjustified taxes and corruption only destroy the citizens’ confidence in their authorities and are ultimately catastrophic for any state.
A video presented the testimony of the late tax collector Shih Yueh-Sheng. He confessed that Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, the main instigator of the persecution of Tai Ji Men, told him to lie to fabricate a false tax case against Dr. Hong and the movement. Professor Chen Tze-Lung characterized Shih as a typical whistleblower, and commented that his testimony should induce President Tsai to rectify the falsehoods and wrongdoings, and solve the Tai Ji Men case without delay.
Tseng Chien-Yuan, adjunct associate professor at National Central University’s Department of Hakka Language and Social Sciences, was a tax victim and participated in the tax reform movement. It was his personal experience that taught him the depth and extension of tax injustice in Taiwan. He stated that he intends to introduce a political resolution in the Legislative Yuan next year through civil society organizations, requesting that the government deeply reforms the tax system, as all voters may become tax victims.
Chen Yi-Nan, a co-founder of the Tax and Legal Reform League and an arbitrator, expressed his disappointment that the Taiwanese government’s human rights violations against Tai Ji Men caused the nation to lose face on the international stage. He maintained that Taiwan’s hard-earned image of democracy in the international community should be cherished and protected by rectifying the injustices vested on Tai Ji Men.
Mr. Huang, a former tax auditor of the National Taxation Bureau in Kaohsiung, denounced the violations of law and the pressions of prosecutor that lead to issuing ill-founded tax bills, as evidenced by Prosecutor Hou’s actions against Tai Ji Men.
Venerable Ming Guang, president of the Chinese Religious Association, applauded Dr. Hong for having promoted a culture of peace with love and conscience over the years, building an internationally respected spiritual and cultural organization. Nonetheless, he observed, Tai Ji Men has been treated unreasonably and ruthlessly by the Taiwanese government for twenty-five years. These mistakes, he said, should now be corrected, as the 25 international scholars who signed the open letter to President Tsai also emphasized.