In the wake of the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report 2010, which cites Japan as a nation in which forced conversions of Unification Church members are reportedly allowed with impunity, independent researchers have come forth to confirm allegations of government inaction to protect the rights of religious believers. Failure to stop the abduction and faith-breaking of religious believers in Japan has been mentioned in the report every year since 2002. Several U.S. Congressmen have also raised the issue with Japan’s ambassador in Washington D.C.
According to the State Department: “…there were some reports of societal abuse based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice…. The Unification Church reported some adherents were pressured by family members and professional deprogrammers to leave the church.”
“The kidnapping and abuse of Japanese citizens by members of their own families to coerce them to change their religious beliefs is an objective fact,” stated Dr. Aaron Rhodes, international human rights advocate, former executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. “These abductions are not given appropriate attention, either by Japanese authorities or by international authorities and Japan’s important partners in the international community. These failures are a shame, because with proper expressions of concern, and assistance from abroad, Japanese officials could more easily solve this problem, which has tarnished its reputation as a rule-of-law democracy, and resulted in a great deal of suffering.”
Antonio Stango, secretary general of the Italian Helsinki Committee and a noted human rights expert, also responded to the report. “I investigated this issue when I traveled to Japan this year,” stated Stango. “It is very clear that these crimes are occurring and that Japan is not taking action to stop them.”
The release of the State Department report comes on the heels of demonstrations in 10 major cities—from New York to Seattle—to rally against the continued inaction by Japanese government to stop the abuse and discrimination of minority religious believers in that country. In three other cities, delegates met with the Consul General or the Acting Consul General. However, delegates were turned away from the Japanese consulate in several other cities and had received an official refusal to meet with New York City’s Consul General, Ambassador Shinichi Nishimiya, on October 20.
Since 1966, more than 4,000 members of the Unification Church of Japan have been confined by “faith-breakers” in an attempt to force them leave the religion which they, as adults, freely chose to join. Currently, 10 to 20 Unificationists in Japan are abducted each year. Victims who escape their captors report the use of force, prison-like conditions, and intense pressure to change his or her faith. There have been reports of beatings, starvation, and rape. As frustration of Japan’s inaction mounts, victims have been increasingly speaking out on the abduction issue.