Current threat to religious freedom in Japan may have global consequences
Aaron Rhodes, human rights expert and author, warns in a commentary in the Washington DC based news website The Messenger 15th August 2023, about the present threat to religious freedom in Japan since the Abe assassination one year ago. Much is at stake for religious liberty in Japan and globally because of what he describes as a campaign led by Japan’s Communist Party against a minority religion.
Normally, we see such attacks in communist and totalitarian states. Although Japan is a free nation, it has one of the largest communist parties in the democratic world.
Rhodes is a long-time campaigner for human rights and religious freedom and served from 1993 to 2007 as executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. In the article headlined “Japan’s Threat to International Religious Freedom”, he points out the dangers posed to believers not just in the land of the rising sun, but all around the world, if the communists in Japan were to succeed in their decades long war against the Family Federation, formerly the Unification Church.
The communists, aided by leftwing activist lawyers, exploited politically the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe 8th July 2022. In a well-orchestrated campaign, they succeeded, as Rhodes points out, in telling the story that the Family Federation is to be blamed for the terror attack on Abe.
It is quite amazing how the media took this story at face value and focused on Japanese lawmakers’ connection to the Unification Church, especially within the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in spite of such connections often being slight.
Not only that, the story told by the leftwing activist lawyers that “cults are dangerous”, clearly was allowed to colour the articles of many a Japanese journalist and editor. And they printed the extreme claims unquestioningly even though those claims came from a body founded in order to destroy the Unification Church, now called the Family Federation.
Award-winning Japanese investigative journalist Masumi Fukuda makes this perfectly clear,
“Almost all of the lawyers in the Network were affiliated with the former Socialist Party and the Communist Party, who strongly opposed the enactment of the Anti-Espionage Law, were connected with extremist groups and North Korea, and were ideologically leftists and self-styled atheists. In contrast, the former Unification Church is an anti-communist and conservative organization that opposes atheism. It is clear that this was an ideological battle between the two camps.” (The Truth About the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, article by Masumi Fukuda in the monthly magazine Hanada, republished in English in Bitter Winter 30th March 2023)
Rhodes describes his disappointment that such extreme anti-religious claims from a body initiated by communists were given abundant space in the US Department of State’s 2022 International Religious Freedom Report. He writes,
“the U.S. government’s report on international religious freedom gives equal coverage to the typical anti-cult position that the attack against the [Unification Church] and the Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘was not about religious freedom’ but about ‘harm’ caused to members and society.”
Rhodes describes this as disappointing lack of action taken by the United States, “the champion of religious freedom around the world”. Last year’s report on the condition for religious freedom globally was however exceptionally “soft” on Japan, even though the Japanese government clearly has done its part to create what leading religious freedom expert Massimo Introvigne calls “the most dramatic religious liberty crisis in a democratic country.”
In spite of serious issues with freedom of faith in Japan, the country has been dealt with in an unusually soft manner. Rhodes, and Introvigne attribute this to political bias as Japan is one of the key allies of the USA in the Far East.
Rhodes is also critical of Freedom House, the Washington DC based non-governmental organization that measures the degree of civil liberty in each nation. The US human rights expert claims that Freedom House bypassed the Japanese “government’s threat to religious freedom in its report.”
Because of the lack of reaction by the United States and the international human rights community, Rhodes fears that the Japanese government may face little criticism even though it continues to ignore the constitutionally granted religious freedom of a religious minority.
And this may well become a much larger problem and affect other religious minorities not only in Japan, but potentially around the world. As Rhodes emphasizes,
“authoritarian states may see a green light for further assaults on Christians, Muslims, minorities such as the Ahmadi Muslims, Jews, the Baha’i and others. […] With so much at stake, human rights monitors and friends of Japan should help ensure that the principle of religious freedom is not corroded.”
Featured image above: Dr. Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 1993-2007. Photo: Bitter Winter
More about threat to religious freedom: Japan Given Bottom Rank
“Japan: Threat to Religious Freedom” – text: Knut Holdhus