Religious freedom authorities warn Kishida not to follow path of totalitarian regimes
The independent, non-partisan media company RealClearPolitics published 26th September 2023 a commentary headlined “Democracies in Asia Risk Failing on Religious Freedom”. It was penned 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 point out that the oppression has become so extreme that we no longer are shocked by the horrible treatment of religious minorities in totalitarian regimes like China, Iran, and Myanmar. What is even more disturbing is however the growing acceptance of persecution in democratic countries.
In the article, they warn that some democracies in Asia, such as India, Pakistan, and Japan, are failing to protect religious freedom and are allowing or even encouraging discrimination and persecution of minority faith groups.
Johnson Cook and Swett describe how the Indian government has supported “policies that discriminate against and hinder the freedom of religious minorities, such as Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindu Dalit communities.” Those policies have caused violent mob attacks against minority religions.
Also in neighbouring Pakistan you find state-supported persecution leading to mob attacks against minority faiths like Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims.
What is more surprising to the two former U.S. state officials, is the situation in Japan, a country that in many ways for a long time has been an exemplary democratic nation where the population are guaranteed civil and political rights. The writers explain,
“In a move that is much more reminiscent of current practices in China and Russia, Japan’s government is now threatening to dissolve a legally constituted religious group for seemingly political reasons.
Scholars of religion and human rights have watched with concern the developments in Japan following the tragic assassination in 2022 of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The assassin claimed the attack was motivated by his anger at the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church), to which his mother belongs and which had ties, through politics, to Abe.”
The commentary in RealClearPolitics compares the development in Japan since the Abe assassination to the situation in totalitarian states, where religious minorities have been eliminated after campaigns where the authorities used the media to paint a black picture of particular faith groups.
Although the Kishida administration did not orchestrate such a campaign, they seem to have joined it and come to accept its claims and goals.
Johnson Cook and Swett write,
“Dissolving a religious organization that has not been found guilty of any crime would taint the image of Japan as a country committed to democratic principles. Democracies must live by their values and can never follow the path of totalitarian regimes […].”
The two American religious freedom advocates emphasize the vital role of freedom of religion or belief for protecting faiths that are often misunderstood and portrayed in a negative manner. Every democracy has the duty to guard the rights of minorities to practice their faith, whether it be the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, Christians in India or a relatively new religious movement like the Family Federation in Japan.
Swett and Johnson Cook point out,
“Governments that truly embrace freedom of religion or belief safeguard their religious communities against the tides of negative public opinion and against prejudice. Laws, policies, or actions that disregard or trample on this fundamental right have no place in democratic nations.”
U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain is encouraged by Johnson Cook and Swett to “speak out boldly” to stop the ongoing attacks on freedom of religion and belief in democratic nations. If such an essential human right is disregarded there, dictators around the world have the perfect excuse to do the same. The world’s democracies must stand up for freedom of religion and belief.
Featured image above: Left: USCIRF Chair Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett in Oslo 8th Nov. 2014. Photo: United States Commission on International Religious Freedom / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped. Right: Suzan Johnson Cook in July 2023. Photo: FOREF
“Japan Copying Totalitarian Regimes” – text: Knut Holdhus
See also Claims: Government Acting Illegally
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