Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

USCIRF Annual Report 2013 - Thematic Issues: Kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion in Japan

Publisher United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Publication Date 30 April 2013
Cite as United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, USCIRF Annual Report 2013 - Thematic Issues: Kidnapping and forced religious de-conversion in Japan, 30 April 2013, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Japan is a thriving democracy with an advanced judicial system, both of which have generally promoted and protected the freedom of religion and belief. Nonetheless, over the past several decades, thousands of individuals belonging to the Unification Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and other new religious movements (NRMs) have been kidnapped by their families in an effort to force them to renounce their chosen beliefs. In some extreme cases, as with Unification Church member Toro Goto, individuals were confined against their will for a decade or more. Those abducted describe psychological harassment and physical abuse by both family members and "professional deprogrammers." Police and judicial authorities have neither investigated nor indicted those responsible for these acts, often citing lack of evidence.

The Japanese Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and also protects citizens against false imprisonment. In addition, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Japan has ratified, protects the freedom "to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice" and provides that "no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion of belief of his choice." Nevertheless, Japanese authorities continue to see these cases as family matters in which they will not intervene.

The number of abductions for the purpose of forced de-conversion has dropped dramatically since the 1990s, though they have continued to occur each year, particularly targeting Unification Church members. For the Jehovah's Witness, forced de-conversions stopped after an August 2002 court case declared their "deprogramming" illegal and several other cases resulted in civil judgments against parents and "professional deprogrammers." However, in a 2003 Supreme Court case involving the alleged kidnapping and forced de-conversion of Unification Church members, the Court rejected the appeal, stating that the facts of the case did not violate the Constitution. Other criminal cases, including the 12- year abduction and torture of Toro Goto, have been dropped because of "lack of evidence." The Unification Church alleges that dozens of cases of forced de-conversion still occur each year in Japan, including in the past year, when five cases were confirmed by human rights groups working on this issue.

A civil case brought by Toro Goto against his kidnappers will proceed this year. The case has garnered media attention in Japan, as well as the attention of Japanese legislators. Religious and human rights groups that have worked to expose the practice of forced de-conversion hope that the number of abduction cases will continue to decline and that in the future police and judicial authorities will pursue criminal charges against family members and "professional deprogrammers" who kidnap and mistreat members of the Unification Church or other NRMs.

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