HRWF (29.08.2021) – According to international human rights standards, freedom of religion or belief involves
the right to freedom of conscience and thought
the right to have or not to have a religion or beliefs,
the right to change or to retain one’s religion or beliefs
the right to freedom of expression about religious or spiritual issues and non-religious worldviews
the right to share one’s religion, beliefs or worldviews and to make new members
the right to freedom of worship and assembly
the right of association
just to name the main tenets of what freedom of religion or belief concretely means.
What is violence based on religion or belief?
Unfortunately, across the world, far too many believers of all faiths and non-believers are victims of physical and psychological violence. Some states do not respect freedom of religion or belief of their citizens and use violence against them: death penalty, physical punishments, inhuman and degrading treatments, or imprisonment. In some countries, social hostility is nurtured by individuals or groups belonging to a majority religion who attack and kill members of minority religions, destroy their houses or their villages. Discrimination is a form of psychological violence that is experienced as such although it may not be visible to outsiders.
Today, on the International Day commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief, HRWF pays tribute to those who have lost their lives, who have been physically or psychologically attacked, beaten and tortured due to their religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs.
In addition to physical and psychological violence, another form of violence and suffering targeting specific religious and spiritual groups usually remains unidentified and undetected by the human rights radars: it is the institutional violence. The perpetrators are state institutions such as tax administrations.
In previous webinars, we have highlighted the case of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan but also the case of four religious and spiritual groups in France: Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Evangelical Church of Besançon and two Aumist belief groups.
Although Taiwan and France are both democratic countries, their respective tax administrations have been instrumentalized by private or political actors to try to stifle spiritual minority groups to death under discriminatorily huge taxes and fines for the purpose of killing them.
This operation has not been successful but the suffering of all those religious and spiritual groups and their members has been incommensurable.
Noteworthy is the apparently increasing contagion of this form of violence against minorities
The case of the Catholic Church in India
The Catholic Church is known to be a majority religion in many countries but it is a minority religion in India and Hindu extremists in society and in political circles do not like it.
Catholic religious congregations in Kerala are to challenge a state court’s order which withdrew tax exemption that religious priests and nuns had been enjoying since 1944 for their commitment to the education of Indian children of all faiths.
The court in that southern Indian state refused to accept their argument that they have taken a vow of poverty and they do not take their salaries for teaching in government-aided educational institutions. Instead, they are automatically donated to their respective religious societies, which is beneficial to the Indian youth.
The court in Kerala quoted the Bible to say “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” The court also said that canon law has no overriding impact on the laws of the land.
The legal clash began in 2014 after the federal Income Tax Department ordered an end to tax exemption given to the Catholic religious priests and nuns. It asked the government treasury to deduct tax before paying salaries.Three priests and a nun challenged the order soon after it was issued. A single bench of Kerala High Court dismissed their demand for tax exemption and upheld the Income Tax Department’s order.
The petitioners appealed before a higher bench of the court along with 49 others, but the court dismissed their demand on July 13.
The petitioners also argued that tax deduction infringes upon their “right to profess, practice and propagate religion” guaranteed in the Indian constitution but the court rejected that argument.
In March 2019, Madras High Court, the state court in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, also ordered religious priests and nuns to pay taxes on their salaries.
The case there is now examined by the Supreme Court and the execution of the order has been temporarily suspended.
As in Taiwan, a long hurdle race from one court to another.
Tai Ji Men case
Again, as in other cases of persecution by the tax administration covered in previous webinars, we see similarities between Tai Ji Men in Taiwan and the Catholic Church in India.
Behind the instrumentalization of the taxation administration against a minority, there are always evil forces who want its destruction.
In India, non-Hindus are increasingly persecuted because extremist political leaders are planning some form of religious cleansing.
In Taiwan, the evil force that has been trying to destroy Tai Ji Men financially for 25 years is Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen.
In April 1997, Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder and spiritual master of Tai Ji Men, was indicted by Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen for alleged tax evasion. It took him ten years to be declared non-guilty (including, no tax evasion). All the defendants were acquitted on final appeal in July 2007 and in this case, Prosecutor Hou lost his face.
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 investigations,
- 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 period of his possible administrative responsibility had allegedly expired in June 2007.
Another act of violence was perpetrated last year by the National Taxation Bureau and Administrative Enforcement Agency in Taiwan in late August 2020.
Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau and Administrative Enforcement Agency arbitrarily then 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 due to the illegal tax bill dating back to 1992 despite this bill having been successfully contested through Taiwanese courts. It was also a likely retaliation for several previous tax cases concerning Tai Ji Men that the taxation bureau lost in courts. Some scholars suspect that the case against TJM was fabricated because of alluring bonuses granted to officers of the National Tax Bureau and the Enforcement Agency for the enforcement of auctions.
In Taiwan as in India, the two religious groups are minorities which are disliked by a majority.
In Taiwan as in India there are vested interests behind the insidious administrative violence.
In Taiwan as in India, media outlets relay and amplify hate speech and hostility against a minority.
In Taiwan as in India, the targeted minority does not resort to violence to defend its rights but takes the law in both hands.
In Taiwan as in India, the people who enjoy the moral teachings of Tai Ji Men or the Catholic Church are the first victims of the violent attacks of the tax administration.
Photo: Tai Ji Men protest in Taiwan 2021 0105