TAIWAN: Tax justice as social justice (International Webinar by CESNUR and HRWF)
Oral presentation at a webinar co-organized by Cesnur and HRWF
By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (20.02.2021) – The title of this conference is quite appropriate on this U.N. Day of Social Justice for enlightening the never-ending fight of Tai Ji Men for Justice. All the speakers who have preceded me have abundantly illustrated this reality that social justice includes tax justice.
For almost 25 years, Tai Ji Men has been fighting in Taiwanese courts against false accusations of tax evasion, started by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen, who has misused his judicial power to fabricate the case.
In April 1997, Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder of the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy, was indicted by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen for tax evasion. It took him ten years to be declared non guilty. He was acquitted of all the charges on final appeal in July 2007.
In 2002, the Control Yuan, the nation’s top watchdog body, investigated the management of the Tai Ji Men case by Prosecutor Hou, accused him of abuse of authority and referred his case to the Justice Ministry for sanctions.
According to the Control Yuan’s report, Hou was guilty of
- Violating the principle of confidentiality during the investigation.
- Initiating an investigation based on a false examination
- Freezing the defendants’ assets without any evidence of illegal gains
- Overstepping his authority by issuing letters on his own requesting the dissolution of Tai Ji Men and the disconnection of water and electricity to Tai Ji Men
- Failing to use scientific evidence to investigate the case
- Interrogating the defendants without prior notice to the defendants’ attorneys as required by law
- Calling for the establishment of a self-help association and failing to investigate or verify the claims of the self-help association in accordance with his authority, thereby damaging the image of a prosecutor as an impartial law enforcement officer
- The prosecutor treated the defendants improperly and rudely when interrogating them.
These were very serious charges.
The Ministry of Justice took a lot of time to investigate Prosecutor Hou’s case and we can reasonably suspect that it was on purpose. Indeed, this investigation could not be closed until 2010. The Ministry of Justice then concluded that Prosecutor Hou could not be punished because according to the law, the ten-year statute of limitations for disciplinary actions had allegedly expired in June 2007. In fact, from October 2007 to March 2008, the High Prosecutors Office summoned Dr. and Mrs. Hong as well as Tai Ji Men dizi four times to investigate the violations of the law by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen, which shows that the statute of limitations for taking disciplinary actions against Hou did not expire in June 2007, but the Ministry of Justice claimed otherwise.
On this Day of Social Justice, this denial of justice needed to be recalled and put back on the radar of the organizations which monitor the state of health of democracy and human rights around the world.
Several international experts decided to participate in the commemoration of the Day of Social Justice in Taiwan by bringing their support and their encouragement to the shifu (master) and all the dizi(disciples) who have been fighting during that long crusade for justice in the last 25 years.
Massimo Introvigne, editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, first shared some inspiring thoughts about the emergence of an enlarged concept of social justice, including a wide range of vulnerable groups such as religious and spiritual minorities which are arbitrarily persecuted by bureaucrats or institutions with vested interests. He then introduced several dizi who shared their experience with Tai Ji Men. They told about the benefits they experienced from the teachings of Tai Ji Men in their personal and professional lives but also how much they suffered in their souls, in their minds and in their flesh from the persecution of Tai Ji Men. You have heard their courageous testimonies. These are inspiring, moving but also painful stories.
A book titled “Who Stole Their Youth?” has just been published. It is an invaluable source of information about the magnitude of the damage caused to Tai Ji Men and the dizi by evil forces because they chose to follow their conscience. Fighting for Justice is the right fight.
Karolina Maria Hess, from the University of Silesia in Katowice, stressed that while the freedom of conscience bill in Poland guarantees equality of religious and non-religious citizens, various communities are discriminated against in terms of legal status and taxation.
The Catholic church enjoys a privileged status with exorbitant tax exemptions and also uses its power to prevent new religious movements to be recognized as religious entities with tax advantages. The only option is then to register as a civil association but without any tax breaks, which only deepens the inequality.
Raffaella di Marzio, from LIREC in Italy, stressed that the power to tax involves the power to destroy. When a government doesn’t like a spiritual or religious organization it could try to destroy it using the power to tax and this is the case with Tai Ji Men, she said.
However, she added that “When a government decides that an organization has a purpose that ought to be promoted, can provide a valuable service to society, but will not be, if burdened by the normal incidence of taxation, it may grant a tax exemption in order to foster the valued activity.”
In democratic countries, the exemption from taxes enjoyed by religious organisations is a recognised principle and as Taiwan is recognized by the international community of nations as a democratic country, it has this power to correct a case of misuse of the judicial power.
Mario Marinov, professor at the South-West Neofit-Rilski University in Blagoevgrad, detailed the evolution of the financial relations between the state and churches in Bulgaria.
He stressed that religious groups can contribute to a positive development of the tax system, saying about Bulgaria “The Evangelical churches are active in the proposal of changes in the tax laws, which would make it possible for individuals who donate money to religious organizations to save on taxes over their donations.”
Dr. Ching-Chin Wu and David Lin must be hailed for their very strong and very well documented statements from a legal point of view about the outrageous, but unpunished, violations of the rule of law in the taxation case of Tai Ji Men.
Tai Ji Men’s battle is not only for Tai Ji Men and its dizi. It is a battle for social justice for all the Taiwanese, for Taiwanese society and for the image of Taiwan on the international scene.
Tai Ji Men’s voice and deeds have attracted many Taiwanese experts in legal and political matters as well as other victims of social injustice. Tai Ji Men is at the forefront of a civil movement for social justice that now goes far beyond its members and sympathizers as it concerns a wide range of victims across the country.
The consciences of those who in the Taiwanese society thirst for righteousness and social justice have been awakened and will not fade out any more.
I thank you for your attention.