TAIWAN: International forum on the eve of Taiwan’s Judicial Day – HRWF director’s address
HRWF’s address by Willy Fautré, director
HRWF (21.01.2021) – Thank you for giving me the floor on this important judicial day in Taiwan. I’m assuming that quite a number of people in Europe and North America watching this conference may not know the history of the Judicial Day commemorated in Taiwan. The origin of the Judicial Day goes back to the time of the Republic of China before the Communist Party took over in 1949. The Judicial Day dates back to the 11th of January 1943, when the Republic of China recovered sovereignty of its judicial system through a treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom, which ended the extraterritoriality of their national judicial system in China. This historical day is particularly meaningful for all Chinese and provides an opportunity for bar associations, human rights NGOs, and all citizens in Taiwan to push their government for judicial reform.
Along these lines, another anniversary was commemorated two weeks ago in the United Kingdom: the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury 850 years ago. Thomas Becket was forced to forfeit all his property and flee the country because he dared defy the king in a matter that would have made the church subservient to the state. Years later, after the intervention of the Pope, Thomas Beckett was allowed to return to England. However, he continued to resist the King’s oppressive interference in church affairs. And finally, the king had had enough of Thomas Beckett’s defense of religious faith, and reportedly exclaimed, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” This statement led to the assassination of Thomas Beckett, by knights of the king in the Cathedral of Canterbury.
The fate of Tai Ji Men presents some similarities with the ordeal of Thomas Beckett. Tai Ji Men also followed its conscience when the state of Taiwan started to persecute this movement through the National Tax Administration in the early 1990s. Tai Ji Men believed in the rule of law, and successfully challenged in the courts the state’s attempts to force it to pay undue taxes.
Taiwanese citizens need safeguards against abuses of the law by the state – its administrations and its public servants. According to public polls, they feel that they are not protected, and their perception of the judiciary is rather negative.
In July 2019, the Judicial Yuan released the results of a judicial public opinion survey. Surprisingly, only 27% of the public were satisfied with the judicial system. Those who were dissatisfied were in the majority. According to theglobaleconomy.com, which publishes an annual country ranking about the state of the rule of law, Taiwan was ranked 28 out of 193 countries in 2019. However, laws can be good in Taiwan, but if law enforcement officials do not act in accordance with procedural justice and abuse their power, the state administrations and a deficient judiciary can cause suffering to the people, the deprivation of liberty and property. In the Tai Ji Men case, the problem was the tax administration and a prosecutor.
In the late August 2020, Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau arbitrarily seized and auctioned properties that belonged to Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze, the founder and the spiritual leader of the Tai Ji Men. This intervention was allegedly due to tax bill dating back to 1992. Despite this bill having been successfully contested through Taiwanese courts, the latest move of the taxation bureau fits a 24 yearlong pattern of prejudice against Tai Ji Men and its spiritual leader. It is also a likely retaliation for several previous tax cases concerning Tai Ji Men that the taxation bureau lost in courts. Some suspect there was a profit-making objective behind this auction. First, officers of the National Tax Bureau normally receive a bonus based on the taxes they have collected. Second, officers of the Enforcement Agency also received a bonus from the enforcement results of the auction. And finally, government officers involved in the Tai Ji Men case, both at the National Tax Bureau and the Enforcement Agency received a bonus from handling the case. Some scholars suspect that the case against TJM was fabricated because of all these alluring bonuses.
The case of Tai Ji Men highlights the need for reform in the Taiwanese judicial system, especially the administrative litigation system. Our first recommendation at Human Rights Without Frontiers is to annul the bonus system as it creates incentives that can lead to undue fiscal and judicial harassment. Our second recommendation is to sanction those in state administrations and the judiciary, who are found to be negligent or to have abused their power.
And thank you for your attention during my presentation.
See the video extract of this forum: https://youtu.be/5ZF_txFLnNs
See Bitter Winter’s press release