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Hostile Lawyers May Determine Who Is a “Victim”

Family Federation of Okazaka, Japan

Extreme definition of “victim” sold to Japanese authorities by hostile lawyers may well net them earnings beyond their wildest dreams

by Matthias Stephan

Family Federation attacked by hostile lawyers
The flag of the Family Federation. Photo: FFWPU

On December 30, 2023, Japan enacted Law 89 of 2023, officially titled the “Law on Special Provisions for the Operation of the Japan Legal Support Center for Prompt and Smooth Relief of Victims of Specific Wrongful Acts, and Similar, and Special Provisions of the Disposition and Management of Property by Religious Corporations”. This law is part of the government’s initiative in response to the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2022 by an individual who harboured animosity towards the Unification Church (now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification). The assailant aimed to punish Abe for his collaboration with certain initiatives of the church.

As a consequence, the government has submitted a request for the dissolution of the Family Federation as a religious corporation to the Tokyo District Court. The legal proceedings are currently underway.

Although more radical proposals were dismissed, Law 89 mandates that religious corporations facing dissolution requests must regularly provide reports on their assets and notify administrative agencies before making any real estate transactions. Additionally, the law permits individuals deemed “victims” of these religious corporations, under specific conditions, to access and scrutinize the inventory of the organizations’ assets.

Symbol of MEXT
Symbol of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. Photo: 文部科学省 (MEXT Japan) / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

Law 89 has faced criticism for its ambiguous definition of so-called “victims”, prompting the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) to release draft guidelines. These guidelines, titled “Criteria for Operation Concerning the Designation of Designated Religious Corporations and Specially Designated Religious Corporations under the Law on Special Provisions for the Operation of the Japan Legal Support Center for Prompt and Smooth Relief of Victims of Specific Wrongful Acts, and Similar, and Special Provisions of the Disposition and Management of Property by Religious Corporations”, are currently open for public feedback before their finalization.

As outlined in Law 89, religious corporations facing dissolution requests can fall into two categories: “designated religious corporations” and “specially designated religious corporations”. The classification depends on specific criteria. A group will be labelled a “designated religious corporation” if there is a “substantial” number of so-called “victims”. Conversely, if there is a perceived risk that the group’s assets might disappear, it will be categorized as a “specially designated religious corporation”.

Organizations designated as “specially designated” will undergo more rigorous monitoring of their assets. Additionally, individuals considered “victims” (typically represented by their lawyers) will have easier access to the inventories and accounts of these organizations, facilitating greater scrutiny.

Despite the intention to bring clarity to the definitions of “victims” and “substantial number”, the guidelines, in practice, do not provide much clarification. Instead, they leave a wide scope for subjective and arbitrary interpretation by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT). The guidelines, as they currently stand, may not offer the precise and objective criteria needed to address concerns surrounding these terms, potentially allowing for varying interpretations and decisions by the MEXT.

Masaki Kito
One of the architects of new law and advisor to the Japanese authorities: Masaki Kito (紀藤正樹), one of the hostile lawyers of National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国霊感商法被害対策弁連) and Nationwide Unification Church Damage Countermeasures Legal Team (全国統一教会被害対策弁護団). Photo: Screenshot / Bitter Winter

The term “victims” is defined in the context of Law 89 as individuals who have endured consequences arising from the “specific torts” upon which the dissolution request is founded. This includes individuals who have experienced harm either prior to or following the submission of the dissolution request. Importantly, these individuals are characterized as having or potentially having legal rights, such as the right to pursue damages, based on the specific torts outlined in the request for dissolution.

Taro Kono, maverick minister
Taro Kono, the government minister who personally appointed hostile lawyers as advisors to the government, is known as a maverick politician. Here in 2019. Photo: Japanese Ministry of Defense / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

The determination of whether a person “may have legal rights” as a “victim” based on “specific torts” is addressed in the guidelines. They explicitly reference and endorse an opinion from the Legal Affairs Committee of the House of Councillors, dated December 12, 2023. According to this opinion, individuals without a clear intention to file a claim, along with those who have already received compensation are purported and recognized as victims. The guidelines broaden the definition of victims to include individuals who may not necessarily be actively pursuing legal action but have suffered from the specified wrongs or torts.

The Ministry’s perspective raises concern about the definition of “victims” as outlined by the Legal Affairs Committee and the corresponding guidelines. The broad inclusion of individuals who have settled cases with a religious organization, regardless of the circumstances, presents challenges to the precision and objectivity of the term “victim”.

It emphasizes the inherent ambiguity in categorizing those who have settled as “victims”. Settlements are typically reached to avoid prolonged and costly legal proceedings, and they do not necessarily establish the veracity of the claims. Entering into a settlement does not automatically certify someone as a “victim” in the sense of having experienced the alleged wrongful acts.

The criteria for defining “victims” appear to go beyond individuals who have successfully pursued legal action and won court cases, which could contribute to an inflated number of individuals falling under this classification. This raises important questions about the rationale and fairness of such definitions within the legal framework.

The observation highlights a notable aspect of the guidelines that may raise ethical and conceptual concerns. The inclusion of individuals who have no intention to file claims against a religious corporation, and yet are still labelled as “victims”, introduces a subjective element that can be exploited. This seems to leave room for external parties, such as anti-cult lawyers, media, or government entities like MEXT, to potentially influence the categorization of individuals as “victims”.

The idea that individuals might be considered “victims” based on an external perception that they “ought to” have complaints, even if they don’t, raises questions about the objectivity and fairness of the process. The concept of being “brainwashed” and the presumption that individuals may not be aware of their own grievances could lead to an overly broad classification of people as “victims”, potentially inflating the numbers for reasons unrelated to genuine harm or wrongdoing.

This aspect of the guidelines highlights the importance of clear and objective criteria in legal definitions to ensure fairness and prevent the manipulation of categories for various agendas.

Shiori Kanno
Another advisor to the Japanese government vehemently opposed to the Family Federation: Shiori Kanno, here in 2016. Photo: 首相官邸ホームページ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int. Cropped

The absence of a defined procedure through which a religious organization can dispute the designation of an individual as a “victim” is a notable omission in the guidelines. This lack of a formal process for challenging the status of individuals identified as “victims” by MEXT, particularly when the affected person denies such victimization, raises concerns about due process and the potential for subjective determinations.

In the absence of a clear mechanism for dispute resolution, the designation of someone as a “victim” may indeed rely heavily on the assessment made by MEXT, potentially influenced by external sources such as anti-cult lawyers. This scenario could be problematic, especially if the affected person disputes the label and denies being a “victim”. The absence of a formalized procedure for religious organizations to present counterarguments or evidence challenges the fairness and transparency of the process.

The lack of a mechanism for dispute resolution emphasizes the importance of incorporating checks and balances into legal frameworks to ensure a fair and impartial assessment of claims, particularly in cases where the designation of individuals as “victims” has significant legal implications.

The definition of a “significant number” of “victims” in the guidelines, with a general indication that “a few dozen victims” may be considered “substantial”, introduces a subjective element that can be debated. One may ask how one should determine what constitutes a substantial number, especially within the context of a large organization like the Unification Church.

If, hypothetically, the Unification Church has had 600,000 members in Japan during the relevant period, 48 complainants (representing “a few dozen” as per the guidelines) would indeed constitute less than 0.01% of the total membership. The question of whether this percentage is “substantial” is subjective and open to interpretation. Some may argue that it is a small fraction, while others may contend that any form of victimization, regardless of the numerical percentage, is significant.

This flexibility in defining “significant” on a case-by-case basis may lead to varying interpretations, potentially raising concerns about the precision and fairness of such criteria. It underscores the importance of clear and objective standards in legal frameworks to avoid ambiguity and ensure equitable treatment, especially when assessing the significance of the number of persons pointed out as victims in a given context.

Attacked by hostile lawyers: Family Federation of Japan. Here their HQ sign
Sign at the entrance of the headquarters of the Family Federation of Japan in Shibuya, Tokyo. Photo: FFWPU

There are significant concerns about the effectiveness and fairness of the guidelines in providing clarity on the definitions of “victims” and a “substantial number”. The apparent reliance on information from anti-cult organizations and the lack of a robust mechanism for religious organizations to challenge designations or estimates raise serious questions about due process and objectivity.

If the guidelines effectively place the determination of who qualifies as a “victim” and the estimation of their numbers in the hands of external entities with potential biases, it could lead to outcomes that may not accurately reflect the reality of the situation. The fact that designations and estimates may not be disputed, even by individuals identified as “victims” who deny such victimization, further complicates the fairness and integrity of the process.

These observations emphasize the importance of refining legal frameworks to ensure transparency, accountability, and a fair balance of perspectives in the assessment of claims. The aim should be to prevent potential misuse of the system and protect the rights of all parties involved, including the religious organizations under scrutiny.

Concerns raised about the potential broader implications for freedom of religion or belief in Japan are valid and significant. If criteria for identifying and counting “victims” of religious organizations are established without clear safeguards, it raises the risk of the same criteria being applied to other groups that may be designated as “cults” based on subjective or biased perspectives from the media or anti-cult organizations.

The potential for these criteria to be applied indiscriminately, especially during periods of heightened public emotion or media influence, can undermine the fundamental principles of freedom of religion or belief. Such actions may lead to unfair targeting and punishment of religious organizations, regardless of the actual merit of the claims against them.

It is crucial for legal frameworks to incorporate protections that ensure the rights of religious organizations and their members are respected, and that criteria for identifying and counting so-called “victims” are objective, transparent, and subject to fair scrutiny. The importance of preserving freedom of religion or belief as a fundamental human right cannot be overstated, and careful consideration of the potential consequences of such legal measures is necessary to safeguard these rights in the long term.

Featured image above: Okazaki Family Church of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (Koseidori Higashi, Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture). Photo: Evelyn-rose / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped

“Hostile Lawyers May Determine Who Is a Victim” – text: Matthias Stephan

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