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12 Religious Freedom NGOs Denouncing Japan

Japanese martyrs of 1597

Heads of 12 religious freedom NGOs appalled by Japan’s treatment of Family Federation

Bitter Winter publishing statement of 12 religious freedom NGOs
Logo of Bitter Winter

In an article published by Bitter Winter, the leading magazine on religious liberty and human rights, 14th October 2023, 12 religious freedom NGOs, both religious and secular, protest the Japanese government’s recent actions to dissolve the Family Federation.

They all express great concern that the Family Federation, formerly the Unification Church, has been held responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year.

The 12 NGOs point out that after the terror attack on Abe, a network of lawyers and others “hostile to the Family Federation” used the murder of Abe as a pretext to revive an old campaign started by left-wingers mainly for political reasons. For decades, they had been afraid of the Family Federation’s “successful sponsorship of anti-Communist initiatives”.

Anti-communist campaign Japan
From a Victory over Communism campaign in Japan in 1969, supported by the Unification Church. Photo: IFVOC

In their letter, it is described how immediately after Abe had been murdered by a terrorist, “press conferences and an unprecedented media campaign of slander followed.”

The 12 voice their concern,

“We note, however, that with respect to the Family Federation, they have been reported unfairly and one-sidedly, listening only to the militant lawyers and to ‘apostate’ ex-members whose stories in some cases have been exposed as false by independent journalists.”

The network of activist leftwing lawyers in Japan that is hostile to the Family Federation, calls themselves National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales. The letter from the 12 NGOs emphasizes that “spiritual sales” is a concept devised by opponents to describe activities by members of the Family Federation “that have long since ceased”.

Indeed, the Family Federation advised “over-enthusiastic members” to stop such sales projects and condemned them in a public statement published 14 years ago, in 2009. In the years that followed, there were only a handful of lawsuits against so-called “spiritual sales” by members of the Family Federation. Most cases mentioned in media reports after the Abe assassination, are about occurrences that took place further back than 15 years. There have also been cases when the lawyers from the hostile activist network intentionally have tried to make the sales appear more recent by referring to the date a court case began, years after the alleged “spiritual sale” took place.

Persecution in China
Persecution in China: Tibetan Monks arrested in 2008. Photo (5th April 2008): SFT HQ (Students for a Free Tibet) / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 2.0 Gen. Cropped

In the protest letter the 12 signatories state bluntly that a dissolution of the Family Federation will be a step similar to anti-religious measures used in nations like communist China and Putin’s Russia, and that do not belong in a democratic country like Japan.

Also, the letter brings up several important points that must be quite embarrassing for the Japanese government.

  1. The dissolution of the Family Federation is out of proportion with the charges raised against it.
  2. The dissolution is not consistent with the Family Federation’s law-abiding behavior.
  3. The dissolution will pave the way to similar action against other religious minorities.

The signatories deplore the measure taken by the Japanese government, saying that it may “forever taint the image of Japan “as a country committed to democratic principles, including FoRB” (freedom of religion or belief).

At the end of the statement, there is a quote from a commentary on RealClearPolitics, an American website for political news, authored by two religious freedom authorities – Suzan Johnson Cook, who served as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2011 to 2013, and Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The two compare Japan to totalitarian regimes,

“where unpopular religious minorities are ‘liquidated’ after the ground has been prepared by slanderous media campaigns.”

The statement was signed by

Eric Roux
Eric Roux. Photo FOREF
Dr. Massimo Introvigne
Dr. Massimo Introvigne. Photo: FOREF
Thierry Valle
Thierry Valle. Photo: FOREF
Marco Respinti
Marco Respinti. Photo: FOREF

Marco Respinti, Director-in-charge, Bitter Winter, a daily magazine on freedom of religion and human rights

Thierry Valle, President, CAP-LC – Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience

Massimo Introvigne, Co-founder and Managing Director, CESNUR – Center for Studies on New Religions

Eric Roux, Chairman, EIFRF – European Inter-Religious Forum for Religious Freedom

Francesco Curto, Co-founder, Fedinsieme [Faiths Together]

Alessandro Amicarelli, President, FOB – European Federation for Freedom of Belief

Camelia Marin
Camelia Marin. Photo: FOREF
Willy Fautré
Willy Fautré. Photo: FOREF
Aaron Rhodes warning of threat to religious freedom
Aaron Rhodes. Photo: Bitter Winter
Alessandro Amicarelli
Alessandro Amicarelli. Photo: Screenshot

Aaron Rhodes, President, FOREF – Forum for Religious Freedom Europe

Hans Noot, Director, Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief

Willy Fautré, Co-founder and Director, HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers

Raffaella Di Marzio, Managing Director, LIREC – Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion, Belief, and Conscience

Rosita Šorytė, President, ORLIR – International Observatory of Religious Liberty of Refugees

Camelia Marin, Deputy Director, Soteria International

Featured image above: From painting depicting the 26 martyrs of Japan in 1597, Chapel of the Martyrs of Nepi in Katowice Panewniki, Poland. Photo: Abraham / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 3.0 Unp. Cropped

“12 Religious Freedom NGOs Denouncing Japan” – text: Knut Holdhus

More about religious freedom NGOs and Japan: Japan Urged to Make U-turn

More about religious freedom NGOs and Japan: Conference on Religious Freedom Violations

Even more about religious freedom NGOs and Japan: Japan: Threat to Religious Freedom

And yet more about religious freedom NGOs and Japan: Call to End Witch Hunt

See also Japan Copying Totalitarian Regimes


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