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TAIWAN: Tai Ji Men: Arbitrary auction, fabricated case, illegal arrest of Ms Huang

HRWF (05.01.2021) – On 10 December, Human Rights Day, CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) and HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers) held a press conference online to launch a White Paper titled “Justice Denied: The Tai Ji Men Case in Taiwan”, an in-depth report by independent experts on a crucial issue: the judicial, administrative and fiscal bullying of a peaceful and law-abiding group rooted in esoteric Taoism. This 24-year-long arbitrary persecution through the government’s power led to some dramatic events in the last few months.

In late August 2020, disregarding due process, Taiwan’s Administrative Enforcement Agency (under the Ministry of Justice) and National Taxation Bureau (NTB) arbitrarily seized and auctioned properties that belonged to Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder and spiritual leader of the Tai Ji Men.

This forcible intervention of the Enforcement Agency and Taxation Bureau was allegedly due to a tax bill dating back to 1992, despite this bill having been recognized as an unjustified tax disposition by Taiwanese courts.

Some suspect that there was a profit-making objective behind this auction.

 

The auction, a lucrative business for some

Indeed, officers of the National Tax Bureau normally receive a bonus based on the taxes they collected.

Officers at the Enforcement Agency also receive a bonus from the enforcement results of the auction.

Additionally, 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.

It is because of all these alluring bonuses that some scholars suspected that Tai Ji Men’s case was a deliberately fabricated case.

One of the bureaucrats that Tai Ji Men suspects of abuse of power is Lee Gui-fen, Chief Enforcement Officer of Hsinchu Branch of Administrative Enforcement Agency, under the Ministry of Justice. This suspicion is supported by a document with Lee Gui-fen’s seal that outlines the bonus allocation of credits for job performance from enforcing the auction of Tai Ji Men’s properties before the official announcement of the auction had been publicised.

 

The demonstration and arrest of Ms Huang

On 19 September 2020, a volunteer for the Legal and Tax Reform League and Tai Ji Men member, Ms Huang, used her right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Taiwan to question and denounce the lucrative nature of this auction. She was about to peacefully promote taxpayer’s rights on the street with others while holding a sign with Lee Gui-fen’s name on it when she was surrounded by several police officers. She hadn’t even raised the sign yet.

The officers stopped the demonstration when it just started. Without any justified reason, they demanded that Ms Huang present her ID.

When other volunteers asked whether they were in a restricted an area where individuals are prohibited from holding signs promoting their ideas and why they were questioning Ms Huang, the police did not respond. Instead, they asked that everyone show their IDs and ordered the volunteers to leave. They also threatened that anyone recording the scene to protect their own rights would be questioned or detained in the police station for three hours. By disrupting the voluntary and peaceful promotion of taxpayer’s rights, the authorities deprived these individuals  of their right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.

The volunteers finally cooperated and provided their IDs. The police officers checked them and didn’t take any further action against Ms Huang. Thirty minutes later, the police officers surrounded Ms Huang again while she no longer had the sign with Lee Gui-fen’s name on it. However, several police officers searched the bag belonging to another volunteer without a warrant or her consent. One of the police officers discovered a poster with Lee Gui-fen’s name on it, forced Ms Huang to hold it visibly and called her a criminal. Moreover, even when Ms. Huang and other volunteers asked what crime Ms. Huang had committed, the police did not tell her at all, and they arrested her directly. This obviously violates the provisions of Taiwan’s Criminal Procedure Act: when arresting an offender, the police must clearly inform her of the law she violated. Later, the police officers argued that the volunteers went to an area near the residence of a civil servant, Lee Gui-fen, to slander her by name, which was endangering the personal safety of her family members. Although the volunteers didn’t know where Lee Gui-fen lives and this accusation was all wrong and unfounded, when arresting her, the police declared to Ms Huang that Lee Gui-fen had already pressed charges against her and that Ms Huang was caught red-handed.

According to the Criminal Procedure Act of Taiwan, an accuser must go to the police station to complete a record of complaint before she can formally file a complaint. On the day of the 19 September Incident, the director of Zhubei Police Department and the director of Liu-Jia Police Station said that Lee Gui-fen had already filed a complaint on 18 September. However, Ms Huang passed by the place on 19 September and decided on a whim to join the group to hold a sign. If Lee Gui-fen had already filed a complaint on 18 September, how could she have foreseen that Ms Huang would hold a sign at the place on 19 September? The deputy director of the Liu-Jia Police Station later changed his statement and said that on 19 September, when the police saw the sign that Ms Huang was holding, they called Lee Gui-fen to ask if she would like to file a complaint. Lee Gui-fen said that she wanted to file a complaint, so they arrested Ms Huang. When questioned by the County Council, Hsinchu County police chief also changed the police’s statement and said that Lee Gui-fen filed the complaint on 19 September. The inconsistent statements were obviously an attempt to cover up the fact of illegal arrest.

Ms Huang was taken to the Liu-Jia police station in Zhubei by more than a dozen police officers without being informed of the charges against her until the investigation.

The following day, the Zhubei Police Station published a press release claiming that “Tai Ji Men, in the disguise of a tax reform group, protested near the residence of the Chief Enforcement Officer of (Hsinchu Branch of) the Administrative Enforcement Agency, damaging the public officer’s reputation and endangering the safety of her family. Such an approach crosses the legal red line and will be cast aside by the people of the nation.” This statement, with an improper personal subjective comment, was intended to mislead the public to believe that the person holding the sign was allegedly intimidating a civil servant. This press release also used emotional language to accuse the Legal and Tax Reform league and Tai Ji Men.

 

Who is Ms. Huang?

Ms Huang is not a troublemaker. She had never been stopped or arrested by the police before this incident. She did not threaten national security nor disturb public order on 19 September.

Ms Huang is an ordinary Taiwanese citizen. She is 60 years old. She is married and has two children. She has been a housewife for her whole life. She has been passionate about volunteering for environmental protection in schools and her community. She was also praised by the Taoyuan City government and has been a member of Tai Ji Men for 29 years.

 

At the police station and the prosecutor’s office

During the interrogation at the police station, Ms Huang was treated with complete disrespect. She was accused of publicly defaming a public servant, Lee Gui-fen.

In the meantime, a group of protesters gathered outside the police station. One of them, Dr. Tze-Lung Chen, former professor of law at National Taiwan University, repeatedly asked why they had arrested Ms Huang. The police refused to answer, claiming they could not comment on an ongoing prosecutorial investigation despite it only being a police investigation. Professor Chen accused the police officers of abusing their power and urged them to release Ms Huang as there was no written complaint of her alleged defamation or intimidation.

However, instead the police transferred her to the Prosecutor’s Office. With no regard for her age nor physical and mental state of health, she was deprived of her freedom and interrogated for nearly eight hours in the police station and prosecutor’s office. She was not released by the Prosecutor until 1 am and the prosecutor imposed a restriction on her residence.

During the interrogation, many angry volunteers wanted to press charges against the police for illegally arresting Ms Huang, but the prosecutor refused to accept them.

The arrest caused immense mental and physical distress for Ms Huang. After hours of interrogation, first at the police station and then at the Prosecutor’s Office, she fainted and was sent to hospital. A doctor there diagnosed her with acute stress and trauma syndrome.

 

Conclusion

Taiwan has the reputation of being a democratic country. Articles 11 and 14 of the Constitution of Taiwan guarantee the freedom of speech and assembly. Additionally, it is a fact that enforcement officers get a bonus for enforcing an auction; it is not something fabricated out of thin air. And the public are entitled to question how much bonus they get. As such, Ms Huang’s sign was legally protected by the Constitution. It read: “Lee Gui-fen, chief enforcement officer of the Hsinchu Branch of the Administrative Enforcement Agency, how much bonus did you get from handling the Tai Ji Men case? NT$100,000? NT$1 million? Or NT$10 million? Give it back!!!”

In this case, the Taiwanese authorities failed to behave democratically,  failed to further investigate illegal officials and instead abused their power to restrict personal freedom and silence citizens.

Photo: A Tai Ji Men protest in Taiwan. Credit: CESNUR.





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Religious liberty endangered by French draft law against “separatism”

By Newsdesk

 

The European Times (02.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3exzdap – France has a serious problem with radical Islam, but the draft law against “separatism” announced by President Macron may create more problems than it claims to solve. This is the conclusion of a “White Paper” co-authored or endorsed by well-known scholars of new religious movements Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and managing director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions) and Bernadette Rigal-Cellard, from the University of Bordeaux, French lecturer in law Frédéric-Jérôme Pansier, human rights activists Willy Fautré, of Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers, and Alessandro Amicarelli, human rights attorney in London and chairperson of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB).

 

“Eradicating the social roots of terrorism is a laudable purpose“, say the members of the task force who is launching the White Paper, “and some provisions of the draft law make sense, but there are also serious problems.”

 

The White Paper can be downloaded as a FREE pdf at the website of CESNUR.ORG or hrwf.eu.

 

First, the law is being proposed and publicized by some politicians and media with disturbing accents implying that only an “Islam des Lumières,” an Enlightenment-style Islam, is accepted in France, where all conservative Muslims, i.e, the majority of Muslims in France and Europe, are suspected of extremism if not terrorism. “This“, the report says, “risks to fuel extremism rather than containing it.”

 

Second, the total ban on homeschooling punishes thousands of French parents who are not Muslim, and in most cases do not even decide to educate their children at home for religious reasons. Several sociological studies have concluded that homeschooling is a legitimate form of education and may give good results. “Islamic ultra-fundamentalism“, the authors state, “appears in homeschooling in a tiny minority of cases, and may be controlled or eliminated through adequate controls rather than by banning the practice altogether.”

 

Third, there is a speedy procedure for dissolving religious organizations deemed to operate against “human dignity” or use not only physical but also “psychological pressures.” This, the White Paper says, is standard jargon used against the so-called “cults” and in fact some French politicians have already announced that the law will be used to “dissolve hundreds of cults” (called in France sectes).

 

Rather than relying on the pseudo-scientific notions of “brainwashing” or “psychological control,” the White Paper suggests, the law should focus on the “criminal religious movements” (a label several scholars prefer to the elusive “cults” or sectes) that use physical violence or commit common crimes. And, the report adds, the defense of “human dignity” may not lead to violate the corporate freedom of religious bodies, for example when they decide whom to admit or to expel, or suggests that their current members do not associate with those who have been expelled. The White Paper quotes several court decisions stating that excommunication and “ostracism” are part of religious liberty, as religions have the right to take decisions about their own organizations.

 

Fourth, the reference to places of worship unduly used to spread “hostility to the laws of the Republic” should not mean that sermons should not be free to criticize laws they regard as unjust. Religion has always had the prophetic function of criticizing laws deemed as unfair, which is different from inciting to violence.

 

“We understand“, the authors explain, “that France has its own tradition and history of laïcité, and our purpose is not to suggest that France should adopt the American model of religious liberty, or the Italian model of cooperation between religion and the state. On the contrary, our aim is to find ways to address, within rather than outside the French legal tradition, legitimate concerns about radicalization and terrorism, without infringing on the rights of religious minorities or breaching France’s international human rights obligations.”

 

 

Read A White Paper on “Separatism”, Religion & “Cults”: Religious Liberty Issues.

Further reading:

EN: FORB Roundtable (Brussels-EU) Letter to French President Macron concerning the announcements on the “Law on separatism”

FR: FORB Roundtable (Brussels-EU) Lettre au président français Macron concernant les annonces sur « la loi sur le séparatisme »





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USA: Disney and A&E History Channel asked not to spread weird conspiracy theories

CESNUR (28.10.2020) – Eleven NGOs and academic research centers specialized in human rights and religious liberty, two of them with special consultative status at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) wrote on October 28, 2020 to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, protesting an episode on A&E’s History Channel, part of its program “America’s Book of Secrets,” entitled “Cults, Hate Groups, and Secret Societies.” Disney is the co-owner of the A&E Networks, which in turn owns the History Channel.

 

The episode, now being aired in different countries, supports weird conspiracy theories, suggesting that Freemasons may operate a secret base hidden under Denver International Airport, where babies may be killed; that the Illuminati try to dictate how many children each family may have and conspire with the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett; and that “cults” are proliferating like never before and are guilty of all conceivable wrongdoings.

 

One special target of the episode is the Church of Scientology, which is attacked by lumping it together with the Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazis, and religious movements that committed mass homicides and suicides. While Scientology is discussed, images not related to this religion are shown.

 

The show promotes conspiracy theories and anti-cult stereotypes and is not, the eleven NGOs said, inoffensive. When hate speech is promoted against minority groups, be they the Freemasons or the Scientologist, violence is never far off.

 

The eleven NGOs called on Disney and the A&E Network to avoid spreading fake news, conspiracy theories, and hate speech, which, they argued, in times of world pandemic are more dangerous than ever.

 

Read the letter addressed to the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, co-owner of the A&E Networks on Cesnur’s website: https://www.cesnur.org/2020/disney-and-a&e-history-channel.htm.





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SOUTH KOREA: Saving lives by donating plasma: Why are Shincheonji’s good deeds ignored?

By Massimo Introvigne & Rosita Šorytė

 

CESNUR (05.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3nlCfT0 – Eileen Barker, Europe’s most senior scholar of new religions, notes in her entry “New Religious Movements” in the 2020 SAGE Encyclopedia of the Sociology of Religions, that “one does not often see reports of the charitable work in which many of the NRMs engage,” even if it is sometimes “outstanding.” That this happens, is evidence of the phenomenon social scientists call “gatekeeping.” For different reasons, the media filters out news that do not correspond to certain agendas or established stereotypes. New religious movements, derogatorily identified as “cults” are by definition malignant, and cannot do anything good.

 

There are two ways gatekeeping works in this field. First, charitable deeds performed by new religious movements are ignored, or get much less coverage than their alleged wrongdoings. Second, when their good work is just too visible to be ignored, it is reluctantly reported, but immediately interpreted as motivated by a hidden agenda.

 

The media often claim that humanitarian activities carried out by new religious movements are “fronts” for public relations, or for converting others under the false pretext of helping. This “paradigm of suspicion” may be criticized on two accounts. First, it is in turn suspicious that critics do not raise these objections when good deeds are performed by the Catholic Church, the Methodists, or other mainline religious organizations. In these cases, it is understood that their good work is done in good faith, out of a sincere desire for a better world, rather than for self-promotion purposes. Only the activities of new religious movements are accused of dissimulating hidden motivations.

 

A vicious circle is thus created. If new religious movements only spend their time in missionary activities, it is objected that this is typical of “cults,” which devote all their energies to proselytization, while “real” religions help suffering human beings. But, if new religious movements engage in charitable, social, or health activities, it is argued that these are only “fronts” and public relations exercises.

 

In the case of Shincheonji, one of the largest Korean Christian new religious movements, the “paradigm of suspicion” was constantly used to dismiss and criticize the activities of Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), the humanitarian and peace organization created and led by Shincheonji’s founder, Chairman Lee Man Hee. Although most speakers at international events organized by HWPL, rather than members of Shincheonji, are political and religious leaders with no interest in converting to new religions, opponents maintain that Lee uses HWPL as a proselytization tool, which is demonstrably false. The campaigns HWPL promoted in the field of peace education, cooperating with UN agencies, were non-sectarian and certainly not aimed at proselytization on behalf of Shincheonji, and the same is true for other HWPL campaigns and events.

 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Shincheonji was accused of negligence in cooperating with the authorities after one of its female members in the South Korean city of Daegu, before being diagnosed with the virus, infected directly or indirectly thousands of co-religionists. This set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to the arrest of Chairman Lee and other Shincheonji leaders. As we have argued elsewhere, the reaction by the authorities has been so disproportionate that the suspicion that COVID-19 was used as a pretext to hit a movement unpopular among both fundamentalist Protestants, an important electoral constituency in South Korea, and the current South Korean political leadership, which is afraid of criticism by Christian churches in general for both its domestic and foreign policy, is difficult to escape.

 

Late August and September 2020 saw a new and significant development. The plasma of those who have been infected with COVID-19 and have recovered contains naturally formed antibodies and may work as a “natural vaccine,” which would at least lower the risk of death among those hit by the virus. In South Korea, this possibility has been identified and studied early, yet not many donors have been willing to cooperate. On July 12, media reported that, “out of some 12,000 recovered COVID-19 patients who could donate blood for the cause, just 361 have so far shown interest and only 171 had volunteered.”

 

In March already, Shincheonji had announced that his members who had contracted the virus and had recovered were ready to become plasma donors. At that time, the offer was ignored. In September, however, when plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients was both in high demand and scarce, the availability of Shincheonji members to donate plasma met with gratitude. As of September 6, more than 1,600 Shincheonji members who went through the cycle of infection and recovery had donated their plasma.

 

This generous availability was mentioned by some domestic and international media, including the BBC, but the number of media reports was low when compared to the hundreds of articles that in March had exposed Shincheonji, quite inaccurately, as a cult of plague-spreaders.

 

Slowly, however, the story became too newsworthy to be ignored. While very few recovered COVID-19 patients in South Korea had volunteered to donate plasma, those from Shincheonji willing to cooperate where in the thousands and growing. Opponents, thus, mobilized the second tool of gatekeeping. While the Shincheonji plasma donation story was impossible to ignore, critics argued that it was a public relations exercise, and a way to divert attention from the previous alleged non-cooperation with the authorities. It is true that some Korean media changed their attitude after a new wave of COVID-19 cases hit the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, a conservative Evangelical church led by Pastor Jun Kwang-hoon. They confronted the attitudes of Sarang Jeil and Shincheonji, and correctly concluded that the latter had been much more cooperative with the health authorities than the former. Other media, however, continued to dismiss Shincheonji’s plasma donations as propaganda.

 

This was grossly unfair, and indicative of the critics’ prejudice. As the meager results of previous appeals proved, South Korean citizens (as it happened in other countries) are generally reluctant to donate plasma. Side effects such as fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness may exist. Also, in times of COVID-19 hospitals and health facilities in general are often regarded as dangerous places.

 

Confronted with this situation, why did so many Shincheonji members who had recovered from COVID-19 volunteer to donate plasma? It is true that we cannot exclude a willingness to publicly state that they are good South Korean citizens, unfairly maligned and depicted as anti-social and sinister by the media and some politicians. But there should be more.

 

Shincheonji teaches that we live in the times described in the Bible in the Book of Revelation, and will soon enter a glorious Millennium. While God would be able to usher in the Millennium without human help, he prefers to seek our cooperation. Acts of charity and kindness, Shincheonji devotees believe, have cosmic consequences, well beyond the limited mundane aim of improving the image of their religion.

 

It is for this reason that thousands of them have volunteered for the peace education and other campaigns of HWPL. And it is also for this reason that thousands rush to donate their plasma. One of the negative effects of gatekeeping applied to unpopular millenarian religions is that it leaves out the essential. Those who believe that the Millennium is at hand, and that God asks our cooperation in creating his kingdom, do not need other motivations to perform charitable, humanitarian deeds that benefit society in general, including those who regard the Millennium as a delusion.





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Fifty international scholars call for an end of the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia

CESNUR (01.10.2020) – Fifty leading international scholars of religion have signed an appeal calling for the immediate end of the persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, a country where members of the religious organization are routinely arrested and sentenced to terms in jail, and where all activities of their congregation are forbidden. The document was born out of a conference on opposition to the Jehovah’s Witnesses held online from Vilnius, Lithuania, on September 3, whose speakers were the first to sign, followed by colleagues from all over the world, including Russia itself and China.

 

“It seems that Jehovah’s Witnesses are really punished in Russia because of their growth, which is an unwelcome competition for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church,” commented Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne, who helped draft the statement. “The government and the Russian Orthodox Church may not like proselytization, added Alessandro Amicarelli, a human rights lawyer in London and the president of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), also a co-drafter of the appeal, but the freedom to proselytize and to persuade members of other religions is an integral part of freedom of religion under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Russia has subscribed.”

 

The fifty scholars urged “President Putin and his administration to take action to cease the systematic and senseless persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a community of peaceful, law-abiding citizens who only ask to practice their faith in peace.”

 

See the text of the letter and the signatures at: https://www.cesnur.org/2020/jehovahs-witnesses-statement.htm.

 

For more information, email: cesnur_to@virgilio.it, contact@freedomofbelief.net.


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