HRWF (09.05.2022) – On 4 May 2022, at the Press Club Brussels-Europe, a seminar presented to an EU and international audience the case of Tai Ji Men, discriminated against in Taiwan.
Tai Ji Men is a menpai (similar to school) of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation, and its shifu (master) and dizi (disciple) have long been committed to international cultural exchanges, spreading the concepts of love, peace, and conscience, purifying people’s hearts, and practicing world peace. It has been highly praised by Taiwanese presidents, vice presidents, and foreign ministers.
Since its inception in 1966, Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy has never had any tax problem; however, in 1996, it was persecuted during a political purge in the name of a religious crackdown. Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen fabricated witnesses and evidence to falsely accuse Tai Ji Men of fraud and tax evasion.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that Tai Ji Men was innocent of all charges and did not owe any taxes but the saga went on because the National Tax Bureau refused to fully apply the court decision and on 21 August 2020, the National Taxation Bureau, in cooperation with the Administrative Enforcement Agency, unlawfully auctioned Tai Ji Men’s land.
Conclusion of the seminar held on the day after World Press Freedom Day
In the first part of the event, a number of experts shared their perception of the injustice Tai Ji Men has been a victim of for 25 years.
In the second part, members of that movement testified about their own perception of this ordeal which has been part of their daily life for so many years.
“Yesterday, 3rd of May, was the World Press Freedom Day and lots of initiatives were taken everywhere to celebrate this Day. The zero press freedom in Russia to report about the invasion and the war in Ukraine shows how important it is to support bloggers, journalists and media outlets. Indeed, when freedom of expression is muzzled, there is a vacuum that a dictator can fill in with his propaganda to be accepted as THE truth, his truth.
Brave journalists risk their liberty and even their life to report freely and independently but there are also so-called journalists who willingly contribute to spread fake news because of monetary or ideological corruption, said Massimo Introvigne, former OSCE representative on combatting racism, xenophobia and discrimination. This is the case in the dictatorial regime of Vladimir Putin but it is also the case in democratic countries like France, Germany, Italy and even the US where peaceful and law-abiding religious and spiritual minorities have been raided by state armed forces with tragic consequences. In such countries police forces or magistrates have unofficially told media people about their unannounced upcoming crackdown on religious groups so that they send reporters and camera operators.
This is what also happened to Tai Ji Men in Taiwan in 1996 when Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen perpetuated this illegal practice. As a result, Tai Ji Men, its leaders and its members were demonized by media people whose biased shocking story-telling was just meant to increase the sale of their newspapers but indirectly they also served the interests of the State which wanted to stigmatize Tai Ji Men and find some sort of public justification of its operation.
As a conclusion of his presentation, Massimo Introvigne said “As we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, we should tell journalists that we are here to defend their freedom, but we cannot defend them against their own personal corruption.”
Marco Respinti paid a vibrant tribute to US Senator Orrin Hatch who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 88. His two main interests were the fight for religious liberty and against abuses of the tax administration targeting religious and spiritual movements. Senator Hatch was well aware that leaks from state officials to the media did not happen by coincidence but were an attempt by some tax bureaucrats to damage certain movements for ideological or political reasons. He reminded the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that nobody, even a powerful tax agency, is above the law. In his mind, tax reform and the defense of freedom of religion or belief were inseparable.
The testimonies of the dizi are always very precious for the debate in our webinars.
Susan Liu, an international hotel staff, stressed that Prosecutor Hou violated the investigation’s non-disclosure rule and continued to leak biased news to the media, with more than 400 sensational serial reports (an average of 3-4 per day during the investigation period), and more than 70 broadcasts by 12 TV stations, creating a negative perception of our case by public opinion. The TV news and print media reports have caused anxiety in Taiwanese society as well as great harm to their Shifu and the Tai Ji Men dizis. The media at that time did not verify the news about TJM, nor did they make balanced reports, she said. They just reported whatever information the prosecutors gave them without checking it. This is not ethical journalism, she said.
Joanne Dai, an educator, recalled that three reports on the Tai Ji Men case had been submitted by a French NGO, CAP/ Conscience et Liberté, to the United Nations, warning that taxes are often used as a weapon of discrimination against minority religion and spiritual groups. This has become a global issue and one that the human rights community should be aware of, she said.
Yawen Chen focused on the breaches of the laws by Prosecutor Hou and the NTB committed which were officially identified.
The Control Yuan, the inspection arm of Taiwan’s government, indicated in its 2002 report eight major violations of law by Prosecutor Hou. In 2009, the Control Yuan carried out another investigation on the NTB in relation to their misconducts for handling Tai Ji Men case. Seven instances of serious misconduct were found.
Despite these thorough reports, no Directors, officers or prosecutor was penalised by any disciplinary actions.
Sonia Wang, a senior High School Teacher, said that according to the report on World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders in 2021, China, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Djibouti, and Vietnam have the worst press freedom in the world.
The top countries are Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Costa Rica; in Asia, South Korea ranked 42, ranking first and Taiwan ranked 43.
While Taiwan’s journalism industry is less oppressed, she said, it is easy to polarize the news environment for profit. This indicates that Taiwanese media still has room for improvement in balancing reporting and monitoring power, she concluded.
Ajong Tseng, a live streamer, stressed that the Taiwanese media is greatly influenced by political and commercial interests. Many editors and media reporters lack independent thinking and are often moved by political purposes. As a result, facts and truth are covered up and the views of the public are manipulated by the media. This has quite a negative impact on freedom, democracy, and human rights in Taiwan.
To thwart this trend in the Taiwanese media, Ajong Tseng created, with others, a media public service channel on a social platform to debunk the fake news about Tai Ji Men and publish the true facts.
Yin Liu, the managing director of a biotechnology company, recalled that in 1996, the Taiwanese government carried out a political purge in the name of cracking down on cults that had allegedly committed crimes. Tai Ji Men was on the blacklist of the government although it had not violated any law.
At that time, the internet was only in its infancy. TV and print media were the major information sources for most people. For this reason, when Tai Ji Men was demonized by the government and the media, tens of thousands of Tai Ji Men dizi and their families were also vilified, stigmatized and discriminated against in society. I can still remember, he said, that when I was dressed in my Tai Ji Men uniform and walking through the streets, there were always people looking at me and commenting negatively.”
He also remembers that a friend working in the Ministry of Justice had told his parents that they were on their investigation list.”
Further reading: Press coverage in Brussels
Photo credits: EU Today