Tai Ji Men Case Discussed at IRF Summit 2022 in DC

International experts and scholars urge the Taiwanese government to immediately rectify the Tai Ji Men case to defend freedom of religion or belief

Calling for Solution of Tai Ji Men Case

Dr. Holly Folk, professor of humanities and social sciences at Western Washington University, signs a petition for the Taiwanese government’s redress of the Tai Ji Men case at the IRF Summit 2022 in Washington on June 30, 2022.

WASHINGTON, July 08, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit 2022 took place on June 28-30 in Washington, D.C., with religious freedom advocates from around the world in attendance. Two breakout sessions at the summit addressed the Tai Ji Men case–a case of violations of religious freedom and human rights in Taiwan that has lasted for over 25 years.

The summit was chaired by former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, bringing together global religious, political, and academic leaders, including Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, U.S. Congressman French Hill, Member of Parliament of the UK Fiona Bruce, Member of Finnish Parliament Paivi Rasanen, as well as religious freedom defenders and victims of religious persecution. The event, attended by approximately 1,000 people, aimed to promote religious freedom and human rights protection around the world.

On June 30, the Action Alliance to Redress 1219 organized a breakout session under the theme of “The 2022 Review of Taiwan’s Implementation of the Two UN Human Rights Covenants and the Tai Ji Men FORB Case.”

A film was presented at the beginning of the meeting, featuring the international review of Taiwan’s third national report on UN human rights covenants (the ICCPR and ICESCR) by nine international human rights experts in May 2022. The conclusion of the film represented the views of many scholars: “The two covenants have been in force in Taiwan for 13 years. However, they simply exist in name. Human rights are not being respected in government agencies. Over the years, the international reviewers’ concluding observations and recommendations have not been taken seriously. The basic human rights guaranteed by the two covenants, such as freedom of religion, have yet to be implemented.”

Charlotte Lee, an attorney in Taiwan and a representative of the Action Alliance to Redress 1219, pointed out the violations of the two covenants in the Tai Ji Men case, such as the fact that Taiwan’s National Taxation Bureau issued ill-founded tax bills to Tai Ji Men and treated Tai Ji Men differently from other martial arts and religious groups, which violated the protection of equal rights and the principle of non-discriminatory treatment under Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR and Article 2 of the ICESCR. She also indicated other violations of the two covenants, including the prosecutor’s investigation, which resulted in cruel treatment of the master and disciples of Tai Ji Men, a violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR.

Alessandro Amicarelli, president of the London-based European Federation for Freedom of Belief, visited Taiwan before and was invited to teach courses on human rights and religious freedom there. He praised Taiwan’s incorporation of the two international covenants on human rights into Taiwan’s domestic law in 2009. This is a very significant step towards full democracy in Taiwan, he said, adding that the final recommendations of the third review of the two covenants in May of this year failed to mention freedom of religion. He noted that since the Tai Ji Men case is still unresolved, he and other scholars and human rights activists would continue their efforts to urge the Taiwanese government to improve by organizing monthly seminars and publishing articles and books.

Dr. Donald Westbrook, a lecturer for the Library & Information Science Department at San Jose State University, USA, visited Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in Los Angeles in February 2022, which allowed him to gain an even deeper understanding of the beliefs, practices, and community of this group. He stated, “I come to you today primarily as a religious studies scholar and teacher who is most disappointed about the ongoing injustice in Taiwan with respect to this case. I say this with respect to the tax case, certainly, but also in light of confiscated sacred land in Taiwan and the clear infringement on human rights and religious freedom.”

Regarding the protection of freedom of religion or belief, he stated, “But making this a lived (and legal) reality, needless to say, can be an entirely different manner, as others have already addressed in connection to Taiwan’s domestic implementation of two human rights covenants. In particular, the failure to adequately address freedom of religion or belief (FORB) and the rights of taxpayers is disappointing as much as it is perplexing.”

Another breakout session on the Tai Ji Men case focused on the theme “Tai Ji Men: International Ambassadors of Peace and Goodwill and Their FORB Case.”

Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze, zhang-men-ren (grandmaster) of Tai Ji Men, delivered a video message, emphasizing, “Among the rights that human beings are born with, the main and most important one is the right to freedom of religion or belief.” “We believe that conscience, which is the core essence of faith, will serve as a talisman in defending people’s rights to religious freedom. Life is a series of struggles and exploration. Although our time on this planet is limited, through faith, our conscience and innate kindness will be awakened, motivating us to unite hands with more people inspired by compassion and care, to unite and sincerely support one another. To attain harmony and peace among people, between humans and nature, and between humans and other living things, we must take positive action and reflect on ourselves daily and never give up.” He also encouraged global citizens to defend freedom of religion or belief around the world, bravely temper their spirituality, and move forward for true peace and sustainability for all.

A movie titled “Who Stole Their Youth? The Tai Ji Men Case in Taiwan” was presented during the forum. The movie, written and directed by Prof. Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist and the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), answers three questions: What is Tai Ji Men? What is the Tai Ji Men case? Why the protests?”

The film was followed by the speech of Marco Respinti, director in charge of Bitter Winter magazine. He praised Taiwan, saying, “Taiwan is a beautiful country, inhabited by beautiful people, great people, great culture, great food.” He also pointed out that Tai Ji Men is an organization “totally dedicated to spreading peace, love, and harmony in the world. And this movement has been falsely accused of an awful crime of tax evasion. The serious consequences of these blatant lies remain.” He noted that the Tai Ji Men community has been deprived of their freedom of religion or belief and advocated for an immediate redress of the injustice: “We need a decision from the Taiwanese state to end this case, because there is no understandable reason to keep that on. There is no legal reason for Tai Ji Men to be curtailed from its fundamental freedom, religious freedom. The solution must come and must be political.”

Dr. Holly Folk, professor of humanities and social sciences at Western Washington University, has visited Taiwan many times and loves Taiwan. She said that she was not surprised that the case happened in Taiwan and that her remarks are not an attack against Taiwan. She stated, “What Tai Ji Men has faced happens very often, in many countries, even in first world democracies. Religious minorities very often face a distinct type of harassment through bureaucratic regulation.” “The tax case has been used to erode the financial situation, membership and the morale of the Tai Ji Men community. It’s also been used to send the group into permanent legal ambiguity. And that is the point. And that is something that has happened to other groups around the world as well,” she added, emphasizing, “If a religious minority is attacked as a cult or a dangerous social organization, the same strategies are very, very easily activated against secular organizations, against environmentalists, against people pushing for LGBT equality. In other words, everybody, secular and religious, has a stake in this game.”

Pamela Chen, a representative of the Tai Ji Men dizi (disciples), shared her experience as a victim of religious persecution. When the Tai Ji Men case began, she had just graduated from college, and she risked being followed, bugged, and detained by the prosecutorial and investigative authorities, bravely serving as a contact person with the defense lawyers for the Tai Ji Men case. At the time, she felt as if the White Terror had reappeared. Twenty-five years later, the persecution is still going on. Now a mother, Pamela understands that as a victim she must be braver and stronger, and she brings her daughter along to promote reform in Taiwan to help it become a truly free and democratic country where human rights prevail.

The issue of human rights violations in the Tai Ji Men case has attracted a lot of attention at the IRF Summit, where Tai Ji Men members introduced the case to attendees from around the world and invited them to co-sign a petition calling for a solution to the Tai Ji Men case. It is stated in the petition: “We join Tai Ji Men in respectfully asking the government of Taiwan, whose commitment to democracy in a region plagued by non-democratic regimes we appreciate and applaud, to return through a political act the confiscated sacred land to Tai Ji Men and publicly confirm that, as Taiwan’s Supreme Court stated, they never violated the law nor evaded taxes. It would be a small step for Taiwan’s government, but a crucial one to tell the world Taiwan is truly committed to freedom of religion or belief and to the protection of religious and spiritual minorities that were once persecuted by its authoritarian and post-authoritarian regimes.” (A copy of the petition is available here.)

The petition was quickly signed by over 100 people, including Prof. Massimo Introvigne, managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter magazine; Rosita Šorytė, representative of European Federation for Freedom of Belief; Marco Respinti, director in charge of Bitter Winter magazine; Dr. Donald Westbrook, a lecturer for the Library & Information Science Department at San Jose State University, USA; Dr. Holly Folk, professor of humanities and social sciences at Western Washington University; Dr. Alessandro Amicarelli, president of European Federation for Freedom of Belief; and others.

The organizers of these two forums encourage everyone to pay attention to the Tai Ji Men case and join others to sign a petition, hoping to help make Taiwan a true democracy that respects its people’s human rights and religious freedom so as to achieve the motto of the IRF Summit: “Religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, all the time!”

Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy: Tai Ji Men is an ancient menpai (similar to school) of qigong, martial arts, and self-cultivation. It has carried forward the wisdom of Daoist philosophy, one of the highest philosophies of humankind. It is an international nonprofit cultural organization. Its contemporary zhang-men-ren (grandmaster), Dr. Hong, Tao-Tze established the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy in 1966, and since then it has grown to 15 academies worldwide.

Dr. Hong teaches his dizi (similar to disciples) methods to achieve physical, mental, and spiritual balance, and tens of thousands of families have benefited from his teaching. At Tai Ji Men, martial arts and wisdom have been passed down from the shifu (master) to his dizi. Through this time-honored tradition, the shifu and dizi promote the Tai Ji Men culture and martial arts around the world while embodying what is true, good, and beautiful as well as spreading the ideas of conscience, love, and peace. Over the past half-century, the shifu and dizi have self-funded trips to over 300 cities in 101 nations to conduct more than 3,000 cultural performances and exchanges and have been recognized as “International Ambassadors of Peace and Goodwill.”

Media Contact:

Lily Chen

A photo accompanying this announcement is available at https://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/8ec2c8c4-bd12-45c4-a971-b188ce910181. The photo is also available at Newscom, www.newscom.com, and via AP PhotoExpress.

Malaysian Minister meets with ASEAN ambassadors to discuss tourism development

Malaysian Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Dato’ Sri Hajah Nancy Binti Shukri exclusively hosted a high tea with nine ambassadors and high commissioners from the ASEAN countries.

It was an absolute privilege for Tourism Malaysia to bring together Ambassadors from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as High Commissioners from Singapore and Brunei, for the very first time.

The high tea was held to foster a closer bilateral relationship between Malaysia and the ASEAN countries as well as to reconnect after two long years of bracing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meet also served as an introduction and a teaser to a 3-day-2-night (3D2N) retreat for all ambassadors and high commissioners to explore the state of Pahang, scheduled in August 2022.

During the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) that was held in Cambodia in January, the Joint Media Statement of the 25th Meeting of ASEAN Tourism Ministers stated the way forward for the region to recover through the implementation of the Post-Covid-19 Recovery Plan for ASEAN National Tourism Organisations (NTO), which was endorsed in September 2021.

“Moving forward, I believe we can work together to strengthen collaborations in marketing and promoting the region’s tourism offerings. This is also in line with the new ASEAN branding ‘A Destination for Every Dream’, where we can continue to market Southeast Asia as a single destination,” said Dato’ Sri Nancy during the get-together.

ASEAN countries have been the major contributors to Malaysia’sinternational tourist arrivals.

In 2019, the total arrivals to Malaysia from the ASEAN region was over 17.8 million, a 68.5% share of the overall arrivals of 26.1 million tourists. Despite the closed borders in 2020 and 2021, essential travellers travelling into Malaysia still contributed 68% of the total tourist arrivals, i.e 2.94 million in 2020 and 91,665 in 2021.

Source: Lao News Agency

‘Sopranos’ Actor Tony Sirico, ‘Paulie Walnuts,’ Dies at 79

Tony Sirico, who played the impeccably groomed mobster Paulie Walnuts in The Sopranos and brought his tough-guy swagger to films including Goodfellas, died Friday. He was 79.

Sirico died at an assisted living facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said his manager, Bob McGowen. There was no immediate information on the cause of death.

A statement from Sirico’s family confirmed the death of Gennaro Anthony “Tony” Sirico “with great sadness, but with incredible pride, love and a whole lot of fond memories.”

McGowan, who represented Sirico for more than two decades, recalled him as “loyal and giving,” with a strong philanthropic streak. That included helping ex-soldiers’ causes, which hit home for the Army veteran, his manager said.

Steven Van Zandt, who played opposite Sirico as fellow mobster Silvio Dante on The Sopranos, saluted him on Twitter as “legendary.”

“A larger-than-life character on and off screen. Gonna miss you a lot my friend,” the actor and musician said.

Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, called Sirico his “dear friend, colleague and partner in crime.”

“Tony was like no one else: he was as tough, as loyal and as big hearted as anyone I’ve ever known,” Imperioli said on Instagram.

Sirico was unconcerned about being cast in a string of bad guy roles, McGowan said, most prominently that of Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri in the 1999-2007 run of the acclaimed HBO drama starring James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano. (Gandolfini died in 2013 at age 51).

“He didn’t mind playing a mob guy, but he wouldn’t play an informant,” or as Sirico put it, a “snitch,” McGowan said.

Sirico, born July 29, 1942, in New York City, grew up in the Flatbush and Bensonhurst neighborhoods where he said “every guy was trying to prove himself. You either had to have a tattoo or a bullet hole.”

“I had both,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1990 interview, calling himself “unstable” during that period of his life. He was arrested repeatedly for criminal offenses, he said, and was in prison twice. In his last stint behind bars, in the 1970s, he saw a performance by a group of ex-convicts and caught the acting bug.

“I watched ’em and I thought, ‘I can do that.’ I knew I wasn’t bad looking. And I knew I had the (guts) to stand up and (bull) people,” he told the Times. “You get a lot of practice in prison. I used to stand up in front of these cold-blooded murderers and kidnappers — and make ’em laugh.”

Sirico also was cast outside the gangster mold, playing police officers in the films Dead Presidents and Deconstructing Harry. Among his other credits were Woody Allen films including Bullets over Broadway and Mighty Aphrodite, and appearances on TV series including Miami Vice and voice roles on the Family Guy and American Dad!

Sirico is survived by daughter Joanne Sirico Bello; son Richard Sirico; his brother, Robert Sirico, a priest; and other relatives.

Source: Voice of America

Texas Judge Blocks Investigations Of 2 Trans Youth Families

A Texas judge issued an order Friday to continue blocking the state from investigating two families of transgender youth who have received gender affirming medical care and said she was considering whether to prevent additional investigations.

The ruling extends in part a temporary order issued last month blocking investigations against three families who sued and preventing any similar investigations against members of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG Inc. The group has more than 600 members in Texas.

In her order Friday, Judge Amy Clark Meachum said she was still weighing whether to issue a similar order prohibiting similar investigations against the third family and PFLAG members. An order preventing those investigations had been set to expire Friday. An attorney last month said the third family of a transgender minor had learned after the lawsuit’s filing that the state had dropped its investigation into them.

The two families to whom Friday’s order applies would “suffer probable, imminent, and irreparable injury in the interim” without the order, Meachum wrote.

The ruling was the latest against the state’s efforts to label gender affirming care as child abuse.

The Texas Supreme Court in May allowed the state to investigate parents of transgender youth for child abuse while also ruling in favor of one family that was among the first contacted by child welfare officials following order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

The latest challenge was brought by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the families of three teenage boys — two 16-year-olds and a 14-year-old — and PFLAG.

“The Court recognized yet again that being subjected to an unlawful and unwarranted investigation causes irreparable harm for these families who are doing nothing more than caring for and affirming their children and seeking the best course of care for them in consultation with their medical providers,” the groups said in a statement.

The families had talked in court filings about the anxiety that the investigations created for them and their children. The mother of one of the teens said her son attempted suicide and was hospitalized the day Abbott issued his directive. The outpatient psychiatric facility where the teen was referred reported the family for child abuse after learning he had been prescribed hormone therapy, she said in a court filing.

A judge in March put Abbott’s order on hold after a lawsuit was brought on behalf of a 16-year-old girl whose family said it was under investigation. The Texas Supreme Court in May ruled that the lower court overstepped its authority by blocking all investigations going forward.

The lawsuit that prompted that ruling marked the first report of parents being investigated following Abbott’s directive and an earlier nonbinding legal opinion by Paxton labeling certain gender-confirming treatments as “child abuse.” The Texas Department of Family and Protective Service has said it opened nine investigations following the directive and opinion.

Abbott’s directive and the attorney general’s opinion go against the nation’s largest medical groups, including the American Medical Association, which have opposed Republican-backed restrictions filed in statehouses nationwide.

Arkansas last year became the first state to pass a law prohibiting gender-confirming treatments for minors, and Tennessee approved a similar measure. Judges have blocked laws in Arkansas and Alabama, and both of those states are appealing.

Meachum set a Dec. 5 trial on whether to permanently block Texas’ investigations into the families.

Source: Voice of America