News and Insights

Kidnapped, Forcibly Detained, and Deprogrammed

Suzuko Hirschmann

Japanese woman recounts frightening ordeal her sister and others went through being kidnapped, forcibly detained, and deprogrammed 

A longer version of a testimony by Suzuko Hirschmann, member of the Family Federation (FFWPU), on 13th June, the second day of the 2024 CESNUR Conference, during session 8 (plenary, chaired by Dr. Eileen Barker), which had the theme “The Unification Church and Japan: What Is Exactly Happening?” The longer version was kindly made available for News and Insights by Suzuko Hirschmann.

The 2024 CESNUR Conference was held from 12th to 15th June at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne in Bordeaux, France with the theme: “The Contribution of Minority Religions to Society”. The conference was co-organized by: Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), Université Bordeaux Montaigne – CLIMAS (Cultures et littératures des mondes Anglophones), and International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR).

Japanese victims forcibly detained
More victims: Four of the 4,300 Japanese members of the Family Federation who became victims of kidnapping, forcible detention and attempted deprogramming (faith-breaking). Here at a conference in Tokyo 10th September 2023. From left: Toru Goto, Hirohisa Koide (medical doctor), Ms. S, Hiromi Nakajima.  Photo: Screenshot from YouTube video published by Japanese Victims’ Association against Religious Kidnapping and Forced Conversion

My name is Suzuko Hirschmann. I was born and raised in Japan and have been living in Austria for 40 years. I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak at the conference about the violent kidnapping and deprogramming of my sister because of her religious beliefs. Her story is one of thousands in Japan.

I stand here to raise awareness of the reality of Unification Church members who are victims of criminal deprogramming tactics. This reality is mostly unknown, even in Japan where it is still a common practice. Deprogramming is a violent tactic used to break families apart and force people to abandon their faith against their will.

I am deeply distressed by the extraordinary persecution of the Unification Church in Japan by the media and the government. Despite volunteer work in society and sending countless missionaries around the world to promote educational opportunities in developing countries, persecution has dramatically increased since the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The Unification Church has committed no crimes. Since its compliance in 2009, there have been almost no new civil trials against the Unification Church in Japan. This leads me to wonder why the Japanese government is trying to dissolve the Unification Church. And why have more than 4,300 cases of kidnapping and deprogramming not been talked about until now?

There are two main reasons for this. The families of the victims are cooperating with deprogramming experts. It would have meant for the victims to sue their own parents in court, which ultimately push them to keep silent. Second, the media are intentionally not reporting about these crimes.

Gifu
Map of Japan with Gifu prefecture highlighted. Photo: Lincun / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 3.0 Unp

I now would like to tell you the story about the violent kidnapping of my elder sister. I was born in Gifu, Japan, the fourth of five children. We grew up in the Buddhist tradition. My second eldest sister met the Unification Church and found answers in its teachings to her questions about life. She then introduced it to the rest of our family.

In the beginning, my father was supportive, but through the influence of the media and contacts with an anti-Unification Church group, he began to oppose the church. As a high school student, I did not want to cause my parents any grief, so I decided not to visit the Unification Church. In 1974, because of my studies, I joined my sister and my brother who lived in an apartment in Tokyo. They were secretly visiting a CARP [the student movement of the Family Federation] center where college-age Unificationist youth met.

One day, I read a book about the true story of a Christian believer who jumped under a train on a mountain pass to save the lives of dozens of passengers. When I finished reading, I could not stop crying. I thought, “Until now, I have lived my life thinking only about myself. From now on I want to live for others.”

The story took place in the beginning of the twentieth century, when Christians in Japan were still being persecuted. The protagonist was disowned by his Buddhist father. The story had deep parallels to my sister’s situation with my family. I thought I should not oppose my sister without first listening to her beliefs. Long story short: I ended up joining CARP, too.

Kidnapping
From another kidnapping of a Family Federation member in Japan, Toru Goto being abducted. Illustration: Japanese Victims’ Association against Religious Kidnapping and Forced Conversion

In 1976 something shocking happened. My two eldest sisters were living back at my parents’ house and commuting to work every day. One day, I received a phone call from my third eldest sister saying, “It seems that our sister has been kidnapped and confined somewhere.”

My second eldest sister told us later what had happened. While she was sleeping at home, four unknown men entered her room, bound her hands and feet with duct tape, covered her mouth with anesthetic cloth, and took her by car to a confinement house in Tokyo, which was called Association of New Birth (新生会). The four unknown men communicated with each other in Korean, not Japanese.

My brother-in-law (the husband of my eldest sister), who had no contact with the Unification Church, was asked by my father to accompany the men to the deprogramming (faith-breaking) house. He observed the situation and began to distrust their violent methods. He secretly advised my kidnapped sister, “You should pretend to have lost your faith and leave this house as soon as possible.”

Takashi Maruyama
Takashi Maruyama (丸山隆). Photo: Hatena Blog

While she was in the deprogramming house, my sister witnessed another Unification Church member being taken to a different flat, where the deprogrammer (faith-breaker), Takashi Maruyama (丸山隆), was living. It was later discovered that this woman had been repeatedly raped by him for more than two months.

After her escape from confinement, this woman filed criminal complaints but later dropped the case out of fear and shame. Her father committed suicide out of agony for causing this tragedy. Although my sister was held captive only for days, she could not sleep and prayed every night, because she didn´t know what would happen to her. About 20 kidnapped members were held in this deprogramming house. Every day, new people were brought there.

Maruyama was already known within the Unification Church, so I went to the nearest police station and explained the situation to the police officers, giving them the address and phone number of the deprogramming house. The police immediately called Maruyama warning him, “Bring this woman (my sister) to the police station right now, otherwise, we will come to your house”.

On the fourth day, my sister was rescued from the deprogramming house, when the police conducted a detailed investigation, they discovered that my father had commissioned the kidnapping of his own daughter. The police officers changed their attitude and told us, “You have to follow your parents.” Sensing the danger, my sister and I immediately left the police station and lived in Tokyo for two years without giving our parents our address.

Even after being rescued from the deprogramming house, my sister suffered for many years in fear. It took her a long time to trust our parents again. She would only meet with our parents if her husband or her parents-in-law were there with her.

The violent kidnapping and forced deprogramming were criminal, but as mentioned before, if a victim denounces these criminal acts, they must denounce their own parents in court as well. It is a very difficult decision. Ten years later my father fortunately realized through the teachings of another religion that children’s lives are decided by themselves, not by their parents, and that violent methods would destroy trust between parents and children. He in the end recognized our beliefs and supported us.

Because many Unification Church victims of kidnapping had no support from their relatives, like my sister, they were confined for months or even years. There are two ways to be freed from confinement: escaping by risking your life or forcing yourself to lose faith and denounce the Unification Church in court. Imagine yourself having to make that choice.

I hope that you can get a clearer picture of the desperate situation regarding the kidnapping and deprogramming of Unification Church members in Japan.

Thank you for your attention.

Featured image above: Suzuko Hirschmann in June 2024. Photo: FOREF

More about kidnapped, forcibly detained, and deprogrammed: Japan: 4300 Abductions and Forcible Detentions

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