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The Human Rights and Rights to Religious Freedom of 600,000 Japanese Citizens are at Risk


CESNUR - Human Rights and Religious Freedom Experts Decry Government Persecution of Minority Religion in Japan

Washington, DC, Sept. 21, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Center for Studies on New Religions,

 Human Rights and Religious Freedom Experts

Decry Government Persecution of Minority Religion in Japan

CESNUR’s Bitter Winter Magazine Posts Booklet

Explaining Why Japanese Government Has No Legal Basis to Dissolve

The Unification Church/Family Federation

 The Human Rights and Rights to Religious Freedom of 600,000 Japanese Citizens are at Risk

TORINO, Italy (September 19, 2023)—Bitter Winter, a magazine of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), has been following the Japanese government’s unusual and intrusive investigation of a minority religion, which started after the July 2022 assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Today, Bitter Winter starts publishing a booklet that explains why the Japanese government has no legal basis to file for dissolution of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, also known as the Unification Church. The series will run to September 23.

“We regard what is happening in Japan as the worst current religious liberty crisis in a democratic country,” said Dr. Massimo Introvigne, an Italian sociologist who serves as editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious liberty and human rights published by CESNUR. “It is severely tarnishing the international image of Japan, a country I deeply respect.”

International lawyer Tatsuki Nakayama, who specializes in legal integrity issues, says in his booklet that Japan’s government, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, is not following the 1951  Religious Corporations Act, but appears to be practicing politics.

The government’s efforts to “torture the members of the Family Federation without killing them, so to speak, is a major religious persecution that violates the freedom of religion under the Constitution,” Mr. Nakayama wrote in Dear Prime Minister Fumio Kishida: No Justification for the Government to Request Dissolution of the Family Federation, released in September.

No legal basis for dissolution

Mr. Nakayama said the strict, legal reasons for dissolution of a religious corporation include: proof that it is “obviously” antisocial and commits criminal acts under the Penal Code. There must be criminal activities organized by the leadership that are “malicious” and “continuous.”

The Family Federation has done none of these things, Mr. Nakayama wrote. First, the Family Federation leadership has never engaged in any criminal behaviors. (Individual believers’ actions cannot be used to dissolve an entire religious organization).

Second, many years ago, some individuals used undue pressure to persuade people to make large donations to the Family Federation for spiritual benefit. However, this was dealt with in 2009 when the Family Federation issued a Declaration of Compliance to fully reform its fundraising activities. Since 2009, there have been only four donation-complaint cases that went to court (three were settled and one went to judgment), and in the last seven years, there has been not a single case brought to court against the Family Federation.

No “dissolution” for other religious groups that committed crimes 

Mr. Nakayama’s research shows that at least eight other religious organizations—in which leaders and followers raped, beat, and even murdered believers—were not dissolved by the Japanese government or the court. Except for one group that disbanded due to bankruptcy, these religious corporations still exist.

“Compared with eight other religious corporations, the Family Federation is not ‘malicious’ enough for the government to request an order for its dissolution,” Mr. Nakayama wrote.

Founded in 2018, Bitter Winter has emerged as a major source of information about global religious liberty issues, and is one of the most quoted in the U.S. Department of State’s yearly reports on freedom of religion. “We normally contrast how democratic countries protect freedom of religion as opposed to how non-democratic regimes such as China and Russia persecute believers,” Dr. Introvigne said. “Unfortunately, the witch hunt against the Family Federation is already allowing Chinese and Russian propaganda to claim that repressing religious minorities stigmatized as ‘cults’ is also practiced in a democratic country such as Japan.”

As part of his booklet, Mr. Nakayama explains how he came to be involved in the Family Federation case as a third-party participant. In essence, he was asked to observe because there was so much government, media, and public “hate speech” against the Family Federation, it could not easily find sufficient legal defense.

Mr. Nakayama said he took the case with some hesitation—he would never defend a “clear” criminal organization. But he has found, through his interactions with Family Federation leaders and members, that they have been grossly mischaracterized, and “it doesn’t make sense that it continues to be called an antisocial organization in the media.”

Other independent investigators have written that the accusatory focus on the Family Federation in Japan is misdirected. (See CAP-LC links below)

The Family Federation, which has flourished in Japan for 60 years and currently has 600,000 members, was founded by Dr. Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon. Both were supportive of Prime Minister Abe and his grandfather, former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, due to their shared anticommunist worldviews.

The Family Federation had nothing to do with the shocking assassination of Prime Minister Abe, and its millions of members worldwide mourned him. However, when a police leak to media said purported assassin Tetsuya Yamagami said he shot Mr. Abe because he had a “grudge” against the Family Federation over his mother’s donations, this set off a media assault on the Family Federation. Leftist lawyers and the Japan Communist Party still appear frequently in the media to criticize the Family Federation and call for its dissolution.

As a result, the assassin Yamagami has been turned into the victim and the Family Federation turned into the villain, Dr. Introvigne has written.

On July 3, 2023, Dr. Introvigne and other prominent human rights leaders, Mr. Willy Fautré, Hon. Ján Figel, and Dr. Aaron Rhodes, published “Why Japan Should Guarantee Religious Liberty to the Unification Church/Family Federation: A Letter to the Government.” They called for an end to what increasingly appears as a witch hunt against a minority religion.

Before the July 3 letter was published, it was sent privately to Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida, the Japanese foreign minister, and the minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

The letter opens with general comments about protecting Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) for minority religions. It then addresses the current persecution of the Family Federation in Japan, the abusive history of “deprogramming” in Japan, and the Japanese media’s and government’s ill-advised use of “apostates” to denigrate the religion. 

The letter concludes with a plea not to ignore the vital importance of FoRB to a free democracy and why government “liquidation” of Family Federation would expose Japan to international condemnation and encourage similar attacks on religion in non-democratic countries.

For more information, please contact:

Paris-based Coordination of Associations and Individuals for Freedom of Conscience (CAP-LC) published its September 2022 complaint and supplemental statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee about how the human rights and religious freedoms of believers in the Family Federation of Japan were being “seriously, systematically, and blatantly violated” by the government and media:

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