Tai Ji Men: Fabricated case, arbitrary auction, illegal arrest of Ms Huang
On 10 December, Human Rights Day, CESNUR (Centre for Studies on New Religions) and HRWF (Human Rights Without Frontiers) held an online press conference to launch a White Paper titled “Justice Denied: The Tai Ji Men Case in Taiwan”. This White Paper is an in-depth report by independent experts on a crucial issue: the administrative and fiscal harassment of Tai Ji Men, which is a peaceful and law-abiding group rooted in esoteric Taoism. This 24-year long arbitrary persecution has come to a head in the last few months.
In late August 2020, Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau (NTB) arbitrarily seized and auctioned properties that belonged to Dr Hong Tao-tze, the founder and spiritual leader of Tai Ji Men.
This abrupt intervention of the NTB was allegedly due to a tax bill dating back to 1992, despite this bill having been successfully contested through Taiwanese courts.
The latest move of the Taxation Bureau fits a pattern of prejudice against Tai Ji Men and its spiritual leader. It is also likely retaliation for several previous tax cases concerning Tai Ji Men that the Taxation Bureau lost.
Some suspect that there was a profit-making objective behind this auction.
The auction, a lucrative business
Officers of the NTB normally receive a bonus based on the taxes they have 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 NTB and the Enforcement Agency received a bonus from handling the case.
Some scholars suspect that the case against Tai Ji Men was fabricated because of these alluring bonuses.
One of the bureaucrats that Tai Ji Men suspects of abuse of power is Lee Gui-fen, Chief Enforcement Officer at the Hsinchu Branch of the 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 from the auction of Tai Ji Men’s properties before the official announcement of the auction had been publicised.
The arrest of Ms Huang
On 19 September 2020, a Tai Ji Men member, Ms Huang, planned to use her right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of Taiwan to denounce the lucrative nature of this auction. She was about to peacefully protest on the street with other protestors while holding a sign that named Lee Gui-fen when she was surrounded by several police officers.
The officers stopped the demonstration before it had even started. They demanded that Ms Huang present her ID and then arrested her without any stated cause.
When the others asked whether they were in an area restricted from demonstrations and why they were arresting Ms Huang, the police did not respond. Instead, they asked that everyone show their IDs and ordered the protestors to leave. They also threatened that anyone recording the scene would face consequences. By disrupting the planned demonstration, the authorities did not allow these individuals to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and protest.
The demonstrators cooperated and provided their IDs. The police officers checked them and then left for about 30 minutes. When they returned, Ms Huang no longer had the allegedly controversial sign. However, several police searched her bag without a warrant or her consent. One of the police officers discovered a different poster, forced Ms Huang to hold it visibly and then denounced her as a criminal. The officer argued that Ms Huang had led the demonstrators to an area near the residence of a civil servant, Lee Gui-fen, for the purpose of slander, which was endangering the personal safety of her family members. This accusation was unfounded and incorrect.
Ms Huang was taken to the Liu-Jia police station in Jhubei by more than a dozen police officers without being informed of the charges against her.
Later, the Jhubei police station published a press release claiming that:
“Today, Tai Ji Men, in the guise of a tax reform group, protested near the residence of the Executive Director of the Administrative Enforcement Agency, endangering the personal safety of judicial officers, which is intolerable in any democratic country where the rule of law prevails.”
This statement was intentionally misleading so that the public would believe that the Tai Ji Men protestors were intimidating a civil servant.
Who is Ms. Huang?
Ms Huang is not a troublemaker. She had never been stopped or arrested by the police before 19 September. During this incident, she did not threaten the national security nor disturb the public order.
Ms Huang is an ordinary Taiwanese citizen. She is 60 years old. She is married and has two children. She has been a housewife her entire life and a member of Tai Ji Men for 29 years.
At the police station and the prosecutor’s office
During Ms Huang’s interrogation at the police station, she 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, Professor Tze-Lung Chen, 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 eight hours in total. During this time, she asserted that she would like to sue the police officers for her arbitrary arrest, but her verbal complaint was ignored by the prosecutor. The prosecutor ordered that her freedom of movement be limited to her residence.
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 at 2am. A doctor there diagnosed her with acute stress and trauma syndrome.
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. As such, Ms Huang’s sign was legally protected by the Constitution. It read:
“Lee, Gui-fen, head 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 and instead abused their power to silence citizens.