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Japan’s Blatant Violations of Religious Freedom

Kishida administration

Tokyo paper sheds light on Kishida administration’s gross violations of religious freedom of minority faith

Sekai Nippo on LDP pressuring council
Logo of the Sekai Nippo

Tokyo, 1st July 2024 – Published as first article in a series in the Japanese newspaper Sekai Nippo. Republished with permission. Translated from Japanese. Original article

Series: Freedom of Religion Under Threat – The Kishida Administration’s Reckless Actions

Swallowing Reports Whole from National Network of Lawyers and the Media, Abandoning Fairness in Cabinet Reshuffle

by the Religious Freedom Investigative Team of the editorial department of Sekai Nippo

See second article, third article, fourth article, fifth article, sixth article, seventh article, eighth article, ninth article, tenth article

It has been two years since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated while on the campaign trail 8th July 2022. The incident triggered increased criticism and attacks on the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (formerly the Unification Church), which the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami ( 山上徹也) was said to have harboured resentment against. In response, the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has proceeded with a request to dissolve the religious organization. With the legal basis still uncertain, the targeting of a specific religious organization has placed the freedom of religion, a cornerstone of Japan’s post-war prosperity, in grave danger.

Kishida stated in August 2022,

“As far as I know, I personally have no connection with the said organization. […] To dispel public doubts, during this Cabinet reshuffle, I instructed ministers to inspect their relationships with the organization in question, take responsibility as politicians, and to make strict revisions based on the results. Only those who understood and agreed to this were appointed.”

Kishida copying dictatorial policy
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida violating religious freedom. Here, 16th April 2023. Photo: 首相官邸ホームページ / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

On 10th August 2022, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that a review of relations with the Family Federation would be a condition for appointments during the Cabinet reshuffle. The Prime Minister stated,

“We must exercise utmost caution to ensure that there are no doubts among the public regarding relationships with organizations that have been pointed out as socially problematic.”

He explained that this measure was taken because the Family Federation has been identified as a “socially problematic organization.”

The decision not to appoint lawmakers with ties to the Family Federation to the Cabinet amounts to the Prime Minister, as the head of the administration, excluding a specific religion. This is a significant measure that infringes on the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. Moreover, the justification for this action – “being pointed out as socially problematic” – is exceedingly vague, as it relies on the judgment of others.

A month had passed since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot. Prime Minister Kishida, who is also the president of the Liberal Democratic Party, had achieved a landslide victory in the House of Councillors election held on 10th July 2022. Opinion polls conducted through mid-July showed high approval ratings for the Cabinet. However, after the incident [the assassination], the media extensively reported about the connections between the Family Federation and the Liberal Democratic Party, and the situation has gradually begun to look uncertain.

On the night of the incident, Nara Prefectural Police officials leaked that the motive behind former Prime Minister Abe’s shooting was the perpetrator’s “grudge” against the Family Federation, which his mother had joined. The media eagerly seized on this information. It led to an intensified coverage of the Family Federation.

Masaki Kito and violations of religious freedom
Masaki Kito in 2022. Photo: Screenshot / Sekai Nippo

As the media frenzy grew, lawyer Masaki Kito of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (a group that has opposed the Family Federation since its establishment in 1987) appeared frequently on TV programs and participated actively in hearings by political parties such as the Constitutional Democratic Party and the Communist Party, driving critical media coverage.

For 35 years, the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (全国弁連 – Zenkoku Benren) had exclusively handled lawsuits related to so-called spiritual sales, as well as lawsuits involving former and current members of the Family Federation and their families or relatives against the organization. Consequently, they had almost complete control over information related to lawsuits involving the Family Federation.

The National Network made claims such as “The total damages from spiritual sales over the past 35 years amount to 123.7 billion yen.” Another claim made made by Masaki Kito was, “This is only a part of the damage, and if it is assumed to be one-tenth of the total, the damages would exceed 1 trillion yen.” Such claims were arbitrarily amplified by the media.

It was in this context that the second Kishida Cabinet [second reshuffle, September 2023] was formed. However, once it was inaugurated, the “ties” between the appointed ministers and the Family Federation began to surface one after another. This left the Prime Minister scrambling to explain and address the situation.

Prime Minister Kishida’s greatest mistake was failing to verify the truth of “socially pointed out” issues as a government. Instead, he uncritically accepted the claims of a certain lawyer group hostile to the Family Federation and the reports based on those claims. Panicked by the decline in approval ratings, he abandoned the fairness and impartiality that should be upheld by the head of the executive branch of government.

Moreover, this situation has an ironic twist. It was revealed by an Asahi Shimbun report on 4th December 2023, that Prime Minister Kishida’s statement at a press conference, claiming “I personally have no connection” with the Family Federation, was completely untrue.

Newt Gingrich
Met with Fumio Kishida in 2019: Newt Gingrich, here speaking at the Republican National Convention 20th July 2016. Photo: Ali Shaker / VOA / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped

In October 2019, when Prime Minister Kishida was the Chairman of the Policy Research Council of the Liberal Democratic Party, he held a meeting at the party headquarters with Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. During this meeting, he also met and exchanged business cards with leaders of the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) of Japan, an organization with ties to the Family Federation. When questioned about this, the Prime Minister responded by acting as if he had forgotten about it entirely, saying, “I am not aware of it.”

The exclusion of lawmakers from the Cabinet who do not reconsider their relationship with the Family Federation seems to have been a kind of emergency measure for public opinion management. However, Prime Minister Kishida’s opportunistic populist approach, hidden in his heart, not only undermines the quality of politics but also shakes the foundation of Japanese society, including basic human rights, freedom of religion, and equality under the law.

See second article, third article, fourth article, fifth article, sixth article, seventh article, eighth article, ninth article, tenth article

Featured image above: Photo taken at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence following the inauguration of the second Kishida Cabinet 10th Aug. 2022. Photo: 内閣官房内閣広報室 / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC Attr 4.0 Int

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