The day celebrates the rule of law, something that was not at work in the Tai Ji Men case.
by Daniela Bovolenta
On January 11, 2022, Taiwan celebrated its 79th Judicial Day, commemorating the anniversary of the fateful date of January 11, 1943, when the Republic of China (R.O.C.) entered into a new treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom, making R.O.C.’s judicial system completely independent from any foreign jurisdiction.
CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case. The title, “Tai Ji Men Case and the Rule of Law,” indicated both the necessary connection between the rule of law and democracy, and the fact that the principle of the rule of law has not been respected in Taiwan in the Tai Ji Men case.
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, introduced the webinar. He argued that the rule of law in a democratic country is guaranteed by the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary. In Taiwan, the rule of law has been compromised by the corruption within the National Taxation Bureau and the National Enforcement Administration, fueled by the immoral system of bonuses granted to bureaucrats who enforce ill-founded tax bills.
Fautré then introduced a video about events in Taiwan on December 19, 2021, organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of when the persecution against Tai Ji Men started, on December 19, 1996, with various scholars and tax reform activists advocating for a solution of the Tai Ji Men case.
Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter and managing director of CESNUR, observed that there are two ways of violating the rule of law principle. The first is to claim that the ruling party should not respect the law, but the law should be at the service of the ruling party. This was theorized by Karl Marx, but put into practice in all authoritarian regimes, including Taiwan during the Martial Law period and beyond. The second is to apply literally the laws without having regard to their aims and rationale, thus creating substantial injustice, what the great Roman scholar Cicero called “summum jus, summa iniuria,” “the highest [application of the] law becomes the highest injustice.”
Interestingly, Introvigne said, in the Tai Ji Men case the rule of law principle was violated in both ways: the prosecutor who started the case and tax and enforcement bureaucrats committed multiple violations of law. Second, when international scholars and NGOs protested, the government, while being aware that a substantial injustice had been perpetrated, continued to argue that laws, including those on statutes of limitations, had been literally respected.
Hans Noot, president of the Dutch Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief, congratulated Taiwan for its progresses toward a full-blown democracy, but noted that Taiwan is still in the top tier of the list of countries with a high level of corruption, ranking 35th on the Global Corruption Index. This situation is not improving, Noot noted, as proved by the Tai Ji Men case, where corruption was at work in multiple ways. Without a comprehensive legal and tax reform and a solution of the Tai Ji Men case, Noot concluded, there is the risk that the international assessment of corruption in Taiwan will become even worse in the future.
Thierry Valle, president of the U.N. ECOSOC-accredited NGO CAP-LC, reminded the audience how his organization brought twice the Tai Ji Men case before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva, and commented that today the case has become well-known among scholars, NGOs, and international institutions. Yet, Valle said, no progress has been made in Taiwan to solve it, giving the impression that the National Taxation Bureau is undermining the rule of law, and the government is not capable of keeping it under control.
Alessandro Amicarelli, a London-based human rights lawyer who serves as chairman and spokesperson of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), introduced a video about the important press conference on the Tai Ji Men case held on December 29, 2021, in Taipei. Amicarelli called the Tai Ji Men case a threat to the legal system of Taiwan. He then presented six Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples) who offered their testimonies.
Hung Tien Sih, an engineer who has been a dizi for thirty years, noted how Tai Ji Men reacted to unbelievable injustice through peaceful demonstrations, never resorting to violence and always respecting the law. Some decided to leave Taiwan. They have continued their protests for 25 years, and those in the government who believe that just by letting time pass dizi will stop protesting are mistaken. They will continue to demonstrate until the case will be solved.
Crystal Wang, president of a trading company in the U.S., reported that she joined Tai Ji Men eight years ago and experienced in her life great psychological and spiritual improvements. She learned that loving herself is not sinful or selfish, as she believed before, but in fact only by loving herself she may become able to truly love others. Eventually, she acted upon this love by traveling with Dr. Hong to promote peace, conscience, and love internationally. She finds it hard to understand how such a benevolent group may be slandered and persecuted in Taiwan, and hopes the international mobilization of human rights activists may help restoring justice for Tai Ji Men.
Rachel Jiang, an attorney in Taiwan, offered a legal analysis of the violations of law committed against Tai Ji Men and their leader Dr Hong Tao-Tze during the 1996 crackdown and in subsequent years. Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen relied on letters with false accusations, spread falser rumors to the media, and repeatedly violated the procedure. Even when it had become clear that he had committed no crimes, and was not guilty of tax evasion, as the highest courts of Taiwan confirmed, travel bans were repeatedly imposed on Dr. Hong until 2003, which created problems for his internationally acknowledged global activity to promote world peace, love, and conscience.
Shaffer Chen, a ten-year-old primary school pupil in Lesotho, told how when she was six her parents, who had been victims of the tax case, decided to leave Taiwan and move to Africa. They had to leave an elderly grandmother alone in Taiwan. Shaffer told how important Dr. Hong’s teachings were for learning how to help others in school without being perceived as unduly righteous and arrogant, and expressed feelings of anger about the fact that the Tai Ji Men case still remains unsolved.
Fred Lee, a fire officer from Kaohsiung and a law student at National Kaohsiung University, reported his experience of traveling around the world and attending beautiful ceremonies where political and social authorities rang Tai Ji Men’s Bell of Peace and Love. He also reported how Tai Ji Men teachings and practices helped his work as a firefighter, which is both dangerous and demanding as shown now in the popular and realistic Taiwanese TV series “Tears of Fire.”
In contrast with the acknowledgement it received from both international and Taiwanese political leaders for its peace activities, Tai Ji Men was persecuted in Taiwan through ill-founded tax bills. As a legal student, Lee learned the theory of legal syllogism, which posits that, to respect the rule of law, first authorities should find the applicable law, then assess the facts, and finally apply the law to the facts. All the three parts of the legal syllogism, Lee concluded, have been misapplied or ignored in the Tai Ji Men case and in many other tax cases in Taiwan, resulting in gross injustice and tragedies.
Annie Shen, who works as project manager in an international company, discussed her trip with Dr. Hong to Denmark for the World Taxpayers Association (WTA) Regional Forum in Copenhagen in May 2018. At that time, Denmark ranked first in Gallup’s World Happiness Report, Shen said (it is currently second, after Finland). Speakers at the Forum indicated that its transparent and fair tax system (despite comparatively high taxes) is one of the reasons Danish citizens regard themselves as happy. This, Shen concluded, contrasts with the disastrous situation of tax justice in Taiwan, of which the Tai Ji Men case offers the most significant and tragic example.
Marco Respinti, an Italian journalist who serves as director-in-charge of Bitter Winter, concluded the webinar. The rule of law, he said, is the quintessential feature of justice, including tax justice. When the rule of law is denied, the very dignity of human beings is denied, and freedom disappears. While we all tend to take the rule of law for granted at least in democratic countries, Respinti said, we should be always vigilant against its violations even by those who in theory should protect it, including prosecutors and government officers, as the Tai Ji Men case demonstrated.
Respinti then introduced a video produced by Associated Press on the events of December 19, 2021, and a greeting video with wishes by Dr. Hong for the Chinese New Year, which on February 1 will start the Year of the Tiger. Respinti expressed the hope that, after 26 years of struggles, the new year may finally offer a solution for the Tai Ji Men case.