A webinar discussed different forms of violence against religious and spiritual movements and the Tai Ji Men case.
by Daniela Bovolenta
August 22, 2022 was the United Nations International Day in Memory of Victims of Violence Based on Religion or Belief. CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions and Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their bi-monthly webinars on the Tai Ji Men case, on “The Violent Repression against Tai Ji Men 1996-2022”.
Karolina Maria Hess, a researcher at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Silesia in Katowice, presented the webinar and presented a video commemorating a former Tai Ji Men dizi (disciple) who died after many years of protests for justice tax. Part of his health issues stemmed from a concussion he suffered when five security guards and police officers confronted and beat him while he was protesting at the National Tax Office in Taipei. He, however, continued to write letters and participate in demonstrations until his last days.
In his introduction, Hess mentioned three forms of violence targeting religious and spiritual minorities that Tai Ji Men experienced in Taiwan. First, verbal abuse, in the form of hate speech and media slander. Second, judicial and administrative violence has hit Tai Ji Men through unfounded legal and tax cases. Third, unfortunately Tai Ji Men Shifu (Grand Master) Dr Hong Tao-Tze and dizi were also victims of physical abuse, as evidenced by the mistreatment Dr Hong had to endure during his unjust detention following the 1996 raid, and by the 2020 arrest of a 60-year-old woman, Ms. Huang, during a peaceful protest in Hsinchu.
Hess then introduced the first two speakers. Massimo Introvigne, Italian sociologist and CEO of CESNUR, also editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, focused on an alarming phenomenon. When new religious and spiritual movements fall victim to violence, their opponents and some media outlets try to twist the narrative and claim that the crimes are somehow their fault. Introvigne gave as examples the assassinations of a Scientologist in Australia in 2019, and of a member of the new Christian religious movement Shincheonji, and her sister-in-law, in South Korea in 2022.
The most spectacular case, Introvigne said, is now the murder of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by an assassin who hated the Unification Church, of which his mother is a member, and wanted to punish Abe for participating in events of an organization connected with this Church. The assassin also wanted to kill the leader of the Unification Church. Yet most of the media blamed the Unification Church as the perpetrator rather than the victim.
This strategy of switching positions between the aggressor and the victim is not new, Introvigne concluded. Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen used it when he opened the Tai Ji Men case in 1996. Tai Ji Men was clearly the victim of politically motivated persecution, but Hou told the media that Dr Hong and Tai Ji Men were guilty of imaginary crimes.
Marco Respinti, Italian scholar and journalist and director in charge of Bitter Winter, offered a reflection on the distinction between “force”, a word that indicates a positive principle regulating the universe, both in modern science and in the literary sagas of “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings”, and “violence”, a perverted use of force. The notion of “universal force,” Respinti noted, is often tied to religion and spirituality. Religions can themselves be violent, he said, but they are most often the victims of violence, perpetrated by totalitarian regimes but sometimes also by democratic states, as the Tai Ji Men case shows. .
Tai Ji Men’s work for peace, love and consciousness based on the harmony of yin and yang, and his teaching of qigong and self-cultivation, Respinti said, embody the idea of ”strength as an inherently spiritual principle pervasive in the universe. Conversely, Tai Ji Men suffered violence in the form of persecution. It won’t last forever, Respinti concluded, because “in the end, spiritual strength always wins against brutal violence.”
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, mentioned that the United Nations International Day in Memory of the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief is always a sad day because, while we commemorate the victims of past persecutions, we know that violence against believers continues to exist today. In more than forty countries, Fautré said, state violence is perpetrated against religious minorities. Ukraine is added to the list because Russian invaders persecute religions they perceive as supporting national resistance. State violence risks going unreported, Fautré concluded, when it uses administrative tools such as taxes. However, the Tai Ji Men case shows that this form of state violence against freedom of religion or belief is also dangerous.
Fautré then presented a video on the Tai Ji Men World Peace and Love Bell, a symbolic artifact that political and religious leaders are asked to ring, signifying their commitment to working for a better world. 425 leaders from 128 nations rang the bell, the video explains, and 26 were added this summer in Stockholm, Istanbul and Washington DC. Lawyers Ken Jacobsen and Massimo Introvigne also rang the bell at recent Tai Ji Men events in the United States.
Fautré then presented five Tai Ji Men dizi who offered their testimonies. Jimmy Chiang, a manager in a financial institution, shared his experience of physical and psychological improvement that he obtained by practicing Qigong in Tai Ji Men. The 1996 crackdown took place before he joined Tai Ji Men in 2009, but he understood its background and effects through his work for legal and tax reform. He realized that freedom of religion or belief and the two United Nations Human Rights Covenants, although incorporated into national law in 2009, have not been fully implemented. work in Taiwan, Chiang said, as evidenced by the Tai Ji Men case.
Kate Chen, who works as an executive assistant, also mentioned failures in implementing the Two Covenants in Taiwan, noted by local and international experts. Chen reported that in June this year, she traveled with Sweden with Dr. Hong and other dizi to attend the United Nations Stockholm+50 event, organized to commemorate the 50e anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. In Stockholm, she visited the museum displaying the magnificent ship Vasa, rescued from the sea after sinking on her maiden voyage in 1628. Sweden was not not a democracy at the time, but the government investigated the incident and compensated relatives. of the thirty dead sailors. We expect even more, concluded Chen of Taiwan’s democratic government, which should investigate the “state violence” perpetrated against Tai Ji Men and rectify its mistakes.
Ruby Liu, a recent graduate, shared her experience of participating in the 2020 protests after sacred land intended for a Tai Ji Men self-cultivation center was seized, unsuccessfully auctioned and confiscated on the basis of an unfounded tax bill, and notwithstanding Taiwan’s Supreme Court has established that Tai Ji Men was never guilty of tax evasion. Liu also attended the June 2022 International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit in Washington D.C. and was among the dizi who appealed to the international community for help in the Tai Ji Men case. She hopes that these international efforts will soon bear fruit, she concluded.
Student Melody Fu reported that she also participated in the 2020 protests and the 2022 Washington D.C. IRF summit. She insisted that, despite being harassed and persecuted, Tai Ji Men, whom she called her “second home”, has not stopped her work in the name of love and world peace. She found out how during the IRF summit, Tai Ji Men dizi not only made their case, but also brought the peace and love bell to the world and explained its meaning to the attendees at the summit and to the influential leaders who rang it.
Yachi Tseng, a teacher in Taiwan, dates back to the year 1996, when the Tai Ji Men affair began. She was not yet 24 when suddenly she was thrown into a spiral of slander and harassment. Her own mother suggested she quit Tai Ji Men, and her relatives and friends told her to remove a Tai Ji Men sticker she had on her car. A co-worker even asked him about “goblin breeding,” a false and ridiculous accusation that prosecutor Hou had used to slander Tai Ji Men. She hopes that the United Nations International Day commemorating the victims of acts of violence based on religion or belief will be an opportunity to call on Taiwan to solve the Tai Ji Men case and “eliminate the residual poison of the law”. martial law buried behind the democratic regime,” Tseng said. said.
Fautré mentioned that this year is the 21st anniversary of the Tai Ji Men Academy in San Jose, California, and invited the public to the August 28 memorial celebration. He then introduced Alessandro Amicarelli, a London-based human rights lawyer and President of the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB), who presented the findings of the webinar. Amicarelli observed that all speakers and testimonies insisted that state violence against religious and spiritual minorities is always supported by the spread of slander and fake news, as Prosecutor Hou did in the Tai Ji Men case. This has a consequence, Amicarelli said: Any strategy to defend persecuted minorities and solve the Tai Ji Men case should start with dispelling the lies and telling the truth about both Tai Ji Men and the case.
The webinar ended with a video featuring Tai Ji Men dizi from Taiwan’s Hakka ethnic minority. It featured inspiring stories of dizi who solved complex physical and psychological problems by practicing Tai Ji Men Qigong, and a song summarizing the case of Tai Ji Men in musical form.