On September 28, scholars and human rights activists discussed the role of fake news in the persecution of spiritual minorities and the Tai Ji Men case.
by Daniela Bovolenta
September 28 was the International Day for Universal Access to Information, a day the United Nations created in 2019 also to emphasize that information should be correct, particularly when it comes from governments. On September 29, CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their bi-monthly webinars, on the theme “For a Correct Information on the Tai Ji Men Case.”
Camelia Marin, deputy director of the NGO Soteria International, presented the webinar and a video of a martial arts performance by Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) in New York on September 23, 2022, at the World Leader Summit of Love and Peace. Marin emphasized that UNESCO had adopted September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information three years before the United Nations, and that culture is strictly connected with free and correct information. She mentioned the media attacks on Tai Ji Men since 1996 as a textbook example—but not the only one, as similar campaigns happened in her native Romania and elsewhere—of false information deliberately spread against religious and spiritual minorities. Marin also summarized the main facts and chronology of the Tai Ji Men case, and introduced the first two speakers.
Peter Zoehrer, an Austrian journalist who serves as executive director of FOREF (Forum for Religious Freedom Europe), proposed a comparison between the fake news spread against Tai Ji Men in Taiwan and against the Unification Church after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe this year in Japan. Abe’s assassin claimed he wanted to punish the former Prime Minister because he had participated in events of an organization connected with the Unification Church (now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification). The assassin hated the Unification Church because he perceived his mother had been ruined by her excessive donations to this movement. Those hostile to the Unification Church took the opportunity to launch an unprecedented campaign against the movement, including a liberal use of fake news, reminiscent—Zoehrer said—of the lies spread by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen when he started the persecution of Tai Ji Men in 1996.
Marco Respinti, an Italian scholar and journalist and the director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, presented the concept of “post-truth.” He recalled that Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, publicly asked “What Is Truth?” when confronted with Jesus’ claim to be the Truth incarnated. While Pilate’s answer has been differently interpreted, Respinti said, it has become proverbial as the epitome of relativism, or the theory that truth either does not exist or cannot be known. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche became in the 19th century the main ideologist of relativism. Corrupt politicians have always used the alleged non-existence of truth, Respinti explained, to propagate their own version of the “truth,” which is in fact built on falsehoods. Respinti offered the slander spread against Tai Ji Men and the refusal of Taiwanese authorities to face the true facts of the case as a disturbing example of contemporary “post-truth,” one that urgently needs to be corrected.
Marin then introduced Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, who presented the second part of the webinar and a video featuring the speech of Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute, at New York’s recent World Leader Summit of Love and Peace. Granoff strongly suggested that the world moves from the “love of power” to the “power of love,” turns to conscience, and finds a way out of the many dramatic crises that threaten to destroy our societies.
Fautré mentioned that journalists should have a freedom to inform correctly, and citizens should have a freedom to be informed correctly. Both freedoms are endangered today by fake news, and “trolls” who comment on social media by using fake accounts, he said. He then introduced the testimonies of six dizi.
Daisy Liu, a graduate student in journalism, stated that she was not yet born when the Tai Ji Men case started in 1996. However, during all her youth, she noticed the consequences of the fake news spread against Tai Ji Men by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen on her parents. This was one reason, she said, why she decided to become a journalist and bring to her audience a correct, impartial, and honest information. So far, Liu concluded, false information on the Tai Ji Men case has continued to be spread. However, the efforts of many international scholars and human rights advocates to present the Tai Ji Men case for what it really is should also be acknowledged, and bring hope for a better future.
Annie Chang, a former Research Fellow at the Taiwan Council for Economic Planning and Development, Executive Yuan, explained that Tai Ji Men’s “heart kung fu” also teaches to be generous, altruistic, and truthful when presenting information. She is now engaged in broadcasting on behalf of Tai Ji Men’s initiatives for world peace and love, she said, including the next October 16 global day of prayer. Chang contrasted the teachings she received from the Shifu (Grand Master) of Tai Ji Men, Dr. Hong Tao-Tze, on spreading correct information with conscience and love with the false news fabricated to attack and destroy Tai Ji Men and protect corrupt bureaucrats.
Daniel Chang, the retired manager of a technology company, also emphasized the connection between information and culture. The Ministry of Culture of Taiwan, he reported, has a budget in the tens of billions of New Taiwanese Dollars per year. This is not wrong, he argued, as culture is the foundation of countries. However, Tai Ji Men dizi have brought to the world traditional Chinese and Taiwanese culture without receiving any government subsidy, and self-funding themselves. This benevolent activity of Tai Ji Men has been acknowledged and applauded by Taiwan’s highest authorities, including several Presidents. On the other hand, Tai Ji Men has continued to be persecuted and harassed through the tax case, which Chang called “a demon-spotting mirror of Taiwan’s legal and fiscal systems,” both in need of deep reform.
Chang added that last year Taiwan has over-taxed revenue amounting to NTD 432.7 billion, and the cumulative total over the past eight years has been NTD 1 trillion. But where did the excess tax revenue come from and where did it go? All the information, Chang noted, is not open and transparent. Taiwan can learn from Singapore, he concluded, to return the over-taxed money to the taxpayers, something that can significantly contribute to eliminate corruption.
Chang Su-Hsia told through a video her story of a wife married to a foreign man in a mass wedding of the Unification Church. Their marriage was not easy, but problems were overcome after they met Tai Ji Men and started practicing qigong.
Lulu Su, the owner of a small business, reported how Tai Ji Men helped her parents resolve their disagreements and family problems. She then became a dizi and performed at the 2017 Summer Universiade, an experience she understood as a contribution towards bringing brightness, peace, and love to the world. Since she was a child, she was exposed to fake news and slander about Tai Ji Men, but she knew from her own experience that the derogatory information could not be true. However, based on the old false information, she noted, tax harassment has continued to this very day.
The last testimony was included in a video where Lee Chun-Yan told how she persuaded her whole family to join Tai Ji Men, from which they derived great benefits. However, when fake news was massively spread against Tai Ji Men in Taiwanese media, her family left the movement and turned against Chun-Yan, which had dramatic consequences.
Massimo Introvigne concluded the webinar by telling the story of Roman Emperor Nero, who justified his bloody persecution of Christians by sending agents to farmers’ markets and spreading false news about them. While Nero had only the farmers’ markets, Introvigne said, those who persecute religious and spiritual minorities today have media, the Internet, and television. Introvigne revisited how the term “fake news” became popular starting with the U.S. presidential elections of 2016, but noted that fake news existed before they were given this name, as the slander campaign against Tai Ji Men demonstrated. He concluded with the positive note that, since we have now more knowledge of both how fake news work and how the Tai Ji Men case was fabricated, we are better equipped to fight the false news and help Tai Ji Men dizi in their campaign for justice.
A final video prepared the important initiative of October 16 next, when Tai Ji Men will ask all to join in a one-minute prayer, seeking peace and love for our tormented world.