For years, religious freedom activists in the United States have appealed to the U.S. State Department and to the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to document the outrageous crimes against Unificationists in Japan, including kidnapping and forced de-conversion.
On April 30, 2013 USCIRF’s Annual Report did just that. As reported by the Washington Post’s Max Fisher on May 3rd, “the report discusses a trend in Japan it calls ‘kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion.’ Although Japan is not included in any of the watch-list categories, and this section praises the Japanese government in general for its religious freedom, the trend is about as alarming as its name implies,” Fisher wrote.
The USCIRF Annual Report includes this item:
“Over the past several decades, thousands of individuals belonging to the Unification Church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other new religious movements (NRMs) have been kidnapped by their families in an effort to force them to renounce their chosen beliefs. In some extreme cases, as with Unification Church member Toru Goto, individuals were confined against their will for a decade or more. Those abducted describe psychological harassment and physical abuse by both family members and ‘professional deprogrammers’. Police and judicial authorities have neither investigated nor indicted those responsible for these acts, often citing lack of evidence.
The report continues:
“The Japanese Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and also protects citizens against false imprisonment. In addition, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Japan has ratified, protects the freedom ‘to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice’ and provides that ‘no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion of belief of his choice.’ Nevertheless, Japanese authorities continue to see these cases as family matters in which they will not intervene. The number of abductions for the purpose of forced de-conversion has dropped dramatically since the 1990s, though they have continued to occur each year, particularly targeting Unification Church members. For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, forced de-conversions stopped after an August 2002 court case declared their ‘deprogramming’ illegal and several other cases resulted in civil judgments against parents and ‘professional deprogrammers.’
“Other criminal cases, including the 12-year abduction and torture of Toru Goto, have been dropped because of ‘lack of evidence.’ The Unification Church alleges that dozens of cases of forced de-conversion still occur each year in Japan, including in the past year, when five cases were confirmed by human rights groups working on this issue. A civil case brought by Toro Goto against his kidnappers will proceed this year. The case has garnered media attention in Japan, as well as the attention of Japanese legislators. Religious and human rights groups that have worked to expose the practice of forced de-conversion hope that the number of abduction cases will continue to decline and that in the future police and judicial authorities will pursue criminal charges against family members and ‘professional deprogrammers’ who kidnap and mistreat members of the Unification Church or other NRMs [new religious movements].”
The commission’s report appeared shortly after Unificationist leaders in Japan reported their strong suspicions that two church members have gone missing as a result of coercive de-conversion efforts. According to the International Coalition for Religious Freedom website, a 21-year old man went missing in April and a 26-year-old woman went missing on March 29, 2013.
"We are very glad USCIRF has responded to the call to expand its coverage beyond Countries of Particular Concern. It's important to include U.S. allies that have decent human rights records generally but which need to take religious freedom more seriously. Especially in the case of Japan, there's a real possibility that pressure from the international community will move the government to start enforcing its laws against kidnapping and illegal confinement," according to Dan Fefferman, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom.
“On behalf of all victims of kidnapping and confinement, SAFE (Survivors Against Forced Exit) would like to express its gratitude that USCIRF reported the human rights issue taking place in Japan. Because Japanese officials are turning a blind eye, Japan will not change without the right reassurance from other foreign countries. I hope this report will make a strong impact on the Japanese government to practice Article 20 of the Japanese Constitution, ‘Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all,’” according to Luke Higuchi, president of Survivors Against Forced Exit.