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Japan Urged to Make U-turn

Brownback and Swett urging Japan to do U-turn

Important principles of human rights and religious freedom at risk as Japan is urged to do a U-turn

14 important leaders of organisations championing human rights and religious freedom issued 29th October an urgent statement where they protest the recent attempt by elements within the Japanese government to pass legislation that would immediately freeze the assets of the Family Federation of Japan and appoint a trustee to manage them. Such legislation would make it virtually impossible for the Family Federation to defend itself well in the ongoing legal battle that has just commenced, where the Family Federation is fighting the Japanese government’s request to the courts to have the minority religious organization dissolved.

The 14 leaders point out in the statement, which was published on Bitter Winter 31st October 2023,

Taro Kono
Taro Kono, government minister who brought extreme leftwing lawyer Masaki Kito, who is hostile to the Family Federation, in as special advisor to the Kishida government. Photo (2019): Kuhlmann / MSC / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 3.0 Ger
Masaki Kito
Activist leftwing lawyer Masaki Kito from National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, an organisation hostile to the Family Federation. Photo: Screenshot / Bitter Winter

“It seems that, rather than protecting the alleged victims, the measure is aimed at putting the Family Federation immediately out of business in Japan and preventing it from organizing an effective defense against the liquidation suit by depriving it of the necessary resources. It also proves that the claim that the Family Federation, once dissolved, will continue to enjoy religious liberty and will ‘only’ be deprived of its tax-exempt status as a religious corporation is false. In fact, the request to freeze the assets and appoint a trustee shows that the real intent of the opponents is to prevent the Family Federation from continuing its normal activities in Japan.”

The protest from the 14 emphasize that freezing the assets of the Family Federation and liquidating it would set a dangerous precedent for the authorities to introduce similar steps against many other religious movements that certain political groups or anti-religious lawyers are opposed to. Already groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been mentioned in this context.

The champions of religious freedom and human rights make it clear that they see the attack on the Family Federation as part of a larger campaign against religion generally,

“Scholars have studied how campaigns against religion start by targeting comparatively small and unpopular groups. Measures against them are supported by the media and applauded by public opinion (whose ideas about these groups are, of course, largely shaped by the same media). However, these measures become precedents and establish general principles soon applied against dozens of other religions.”

Warning against the Jehovah's Witnesses in town of Torzhok, Russia in 2012
A public warning against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the town of Torzhok in Tver Oblast, Russia in 2012. The headline says “Caution, sect!!!” The text goes on to say, “Brothers and sisters! As became known recently, near the walls of our holy monastery, followers of the sect Jehovah’s Witnesses secretly preach their teachings. Be careful and vigilant! Don’t let yourself be fooled! You can get answers to all questions about faith and the Church from the brotherhood of the monastery at any time and every Sunday within the framework of Boris-Glebsk conversations.” Photo: Artyom Svetlov / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 4.0 Int. Cropped

There are examples of such campaigns in states like Russia and China. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were targeted at an early stage there, but little by little oppressive measures were introduced against other faiths. In the urgent appeal by the 14 leaders they state,

“[…] our experience demonstrates that ideologies that are in power in these regimes, including Communism, are often also at work in democratic countries. That the opposition to the Unification Church in Japan had one of its political roots in Communist campaigns targeting its conservative ideas and activism has been acknowledged by scholars who have studied the issue.”

The urgent statement appeals to the politicians and courts of Japan to turn down the proposed law to freeze the assets of the Family Federation and to rethink the dissolution order. In addition, the 14 call on “the democratic allies of Japan and the United Nations to make their voice heard as a voice of reason, freedom of religion or belief, and human rights.”

The experts on human rights and religious freedom also urge “all churches and religions that have a presence in Japan to speak out against the new asset-freezing law and the dissolution.”

The 14 leaders from organisations championing human rights and religious freedom are

  • Sam Brownback, who served as U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom from 2018 to 2021 and is currently Co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Summit.
  • Katrina Lantos Swett, former chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, currently President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice.
  • Dr. Massimo Introvigne, Italian sociologist of religion, Co-founder and Managing Director of Center for Studies of New Religion (CESNUR).
  • Dr. Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) between 1993 and 2007, currently President of Forum for Religious Freedom of Europe (FOREF).
  • Willy Fautré, Co-founder and Director, HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hans Noot, Director, Gerard Noodt Foundation for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
  • 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: Left: Sam Brownback in 2015. Photo: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 2.0 Gen. Cropped. Right: Katrina Lantos Swett in 2017. Photo: Netherlands U.S. Embassy / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 2.0 Gen. Cropped.

“Japan Urged to Make U-turn” – text: Knut Holdhus

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