Japanese government in collusion with group hostile to Family Federation
The Japanese monthly opinion magazine Seiron (正論) published in its December 2023 issue a feature article on the outrageous persecution of the Family Federation (formerly the Unification Church) in Japan.
One part of the report by Makiko Takita, well known journalist and editor-in-chief of the magazine, is an interview with Dr. Massimo Introvigne, Italian sociologist of religion and editor-in-chief of Bitter Winter, the leading international online magazine on religious freedom and human rights.
Bitter Winter published this part of the report of Seiron on 19th January 2024, as the third of six parts of the English version of the original Japanese article. Read the whole Bitter Winter article. Read more on article 1, article 2, article 4, article 5, article 6.
The sociologist of religion, famous globally for his work, expresses his worry about the Japanese government’s request for a dissolution order against the Unification Church, citing that the organization has not committed any crimes in Japan, a democratic country that guarantees freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). He emphasizes that, in his experience working globally to defend freedom of religion or belief, this is the first time he has seen such a request for dissolution in a democratic country.
“[…] and it is a great shock to me,” the scholar says, expressing his concern about what he perceives as an unusual and concerning legal action against the Unification Church in Japan.
Introvigne draws comparisons with other countries, mentioning that even in countries where there is criticism of the Unification Church, such as the United States and Italy, there is no government action to legally regulate or dissolve the organization. He also contrasts the situation with Russia and China, where religious organizations, including the Unification Church, face persecution and dissolution by the government. However, he notes that China and Russia are not democratic regimes, and the criteria for what constitutes a crime differ from those in Japan.
Massimo Introvigne further discusses the situation in Japan where the government is pursuing the dissolution of the Unification Church under the Religious Corporations Act. He compares this to the dissolution of an organization called Artgemeinschaft in Germany in September 2023.
Introvigne points out that even in democracies, systems for dissolving organizations exist, but their application is typically limited to cases where a crime, punishable under the penal code, has been committed. He provides an example of the dissolution of Artgemeinschaft in Germany, which he describes as a political organization rooted in Nazism rather than a religious movement. The dissolution of Artgemeinschaft was requested based on criminal activities, aligning with the general principle that dissolutions in democracies are tied to criminal conduct.
Introvigne emphasizes that the situation in Japan, where the government is seeking to dissolve the Unification Church without it having committed any criminal acts, is unique and unusual in a democratic country that upholds freedom of religion. He points out that the current events in Japan are being highlighted in Chinese and Russian media as a form of propaganda, drawing parallels between Japan’s actions and those of China in suppressing religious groups. Introvigne explains how the situation in Japan is being used for propaganda purposes by China and Russia,
“I am the editor-in-chief of a daily web magazine called ‘Bitter Winter,’ which covers news about religious freedom violations around the world. I carefully watch the Chinese media, and every week an article about the dissolution of the Unification Church in Japan always catches my eye. The articles are full of claims that ‘Japan is doing the same thing as China’ ‘We have been proven right,’ ‘Cults should be suppressed,’ and so on. Similar arguments can be read in the Russian government-affiliated media, and the current events in Japan are being used for propaganda purposes by China and Russia. We would do well to keep this in mind.”
The Seiron report provides an overview of events surrounding the Unification Church in Japan, particularly in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by an individual with a grudge against the Unification Church. Introvigne expresses concerns about the way the government and certain groups have been handling the situation. Certain important facts about the assassin seem to have been ignored completely by the media. The general public appears to have been given a slanted picture of the situation. The Italian scholar points out,
“I noted that the man [the assassin] had been interacting with journalists and other opponents of the Unification Church on social media before the incident. Obviously, I do not believe that they encouraged him to kill Abe, but I wonder if they might have excited his hostility to punish the Unification Church. Why did the man commit such a heinous act? I do not believe that this has been fully clarified.”
And straightaway after the assassination on 8th July 2022, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国霊感商法対策弁護士連絡会), a group of largely leftwing activist lawyers who have been fierce opponents of the Unification Church for decades, called a press conference where they blamed the church for what had happened.
Dr. Introvigne describes the tactic of the network of lawyers as a “reversal phenomenon”. The perceived victim becomes the perpetrator, and the alleged perpetrator is treated as a victim. The scholar mentions similar cases in South Korea and Germany where so-called anti-cult movements attempted to shift blame onto religious organizations,
“Last March  in Germany, a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses broke into a place of worship of this religion, called Kingdom Hall, and killed eight people with a gun. Then, some members of the anti-cult movement, which opposes Jehovah’s Witnesses, came forward and criticized the religion, saying that the cause of the incident was that ‘the Jehovah’s Witnesses have continued to abuse this man,’ and called for the religious organization to bear the brunt of the blame. The anti-cult movement deflected the blame from the mistakes of the authorities [who had given a license to carry weapons to a mentally disturbed man] and tried to create a campaign against the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Introvigne criticizes the Japanese government for joining forces with the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国霊感商法対策弁護士連絡会) in various procedures related to a dissolution order against the Unification Church. He argues that such collaboration between the government and a so-called anti-cult movement is ideologically and politically strange.
The scholar says,
“Only in Japan has the government totally jumped on the bandwagon. In Korea and Germany, the media reports on the voices of anti-cult movements, and this can cause a lot of commotion. Sometimes there are campaigns to condemn these groups as ‘cults.’ However, there is no example of a democratic government reacting to such a campaign and moving toward the dissolution of the organization.”
Dr. Massimo Introvigne denounces the Japanese government for all of a sudden changing its policy and allowing cases of tortious conduct to be sufficient ground for dissolving a religious organization. He explains,
“If religious corporations can be dissolved for torts under civil law, there is no such thing as a safe organization. This shows that this was not a legal decision, but a political decision. What the Japanese government has done is a clear violation of the principle of religious freedom. It is a move that should be strongly condemned.”
Introvigne contends that the Japanese government’s decision to pursue the dissolution of the Unification Church is a violation of the principle of religious freedom. He expresses concern that this move may have a ripple effect and set a precedent for private entities to discriminate against the Unification Church,
“and start saying, ‘We will have nothing to do with them.’ This is undeniable religious discrimination, which is unacceptable in light of international law, which stipulates that there shall be no discrimination based on ideology, creed, religion, or other such grounds.”
Introvigne questions the legitimacy of the government’s decision, stating that it appears to be a political decision rather than a legal one.
In fact, there have already been instances of discriminatory incidents in Japan, such as local governments refusing to rent public facilities to independent organizations connected with the Family Federation or passing resolutions to sever relations with such organizations in local government councils.
And what makes matters worse in Japan, is the fact that there might be collusion between the Japanese government and the courts. For more on that particular issue, see Does Japan Have an Independent Judiciary?
More on part 2 of the interview (part 4 of the Seiron report).
Featured image above: Dr. Massimo Introvigne in April 2023. Photo: FOREF
“Collusion to Rob Minority of Its Rights” – text: Knut Holdhus
More about collusion: Government’s Foul Play Pointed Out
Still more about collusion: Malicious One-Sided Government Source Selection
Yet more about collusion: Does Japan Have an Independent Judiciary?
Even more about collusion: Government Changing the Law Overnight
And still more about collusion: Lawyer Slams Government over Blatant Bias
And yet more about collusion: Sinister Plot of Hostile Lawyers Exposed
And even more about collusion: Kishida Follows Anti-Family Federation Minister