The Words of the Fefferman Family

Scholars of Religion Urged to investigate Human-Rights Violations in Japan

Dan Fefferman
September 17 2010

Speaking at the annual conference of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) in Turin, Italy on September 10, Dan Fefferman, President of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, urged religious scholars from Europe and North America to conduct independent investigations into the abductions and forced de-conversions of Unification Church members in Japan. Also speaking at the event was Mr. Toru Goto, the Unification Church member who escaped in 2008 from more than 12 years captivity in an attempt to break his Unificationist faith.

CESNUR is the world's premier gathering of scholars dedicated to the study of new religions and religious minorities. Approximately 150 scholars attended the conference, held at Italy's prestigious University of Turin.

Goto detailed his terrifying experience of kidnap and torture at the hands of religious deprogrammers in Japan. "It was almost exactly 15 years ago," he explained, "when I was back at my parents' home in Tokyo. I was suddenly surrounded by a number of people and pushed into a van, which drove me to an apartment arranged for the confinement. At that time I was 31 years old."

"I was forced to receive daily doses of abusive language against the church and its founder," Mr. Goto related. Anytime I refuted them, they called me 'Idiot! Stupid! Evil,' and so on. My emotional pain was beyond description, and I felt like dying. I frequently attempted escape, even attempting to force my way out, but each time I was overpowered by physical violence."

Fefferman reported to conference participants that 10 to 20 Unification Church members are currently victims of forced de-conversions each year in Japan. Two new victims were abducted against their will during the month of August, and another victim was reported missing on September 13. Several more church members remain missing from earlier this year.

In a question-and-answer period following the panel, Fefferman's assertions were challenged by Mr. Takeshi Yamaguchi of a Japanese anti-Unification Church group calling itself the "National Network of Lawyer's Against Spirit Sales." He denounced the Unification Church's attempt to draw attention to human- rights violations such as Mr. Goto's 12-year ordeal, calling it "merely a campaign to thwart police investigations against the Unification Church." Fefferman responded that he hopes Western scholars will conduct independent investigations to determine the truth or falsity of the claims. He added that Western attention is needed because Japanese scholars are "taking a professional risk if they defend the Unification Church."

Peter Zoehrer of the European-based Forum for Religious Freedom (FOREF) told the session that a fact-finding group of European human-rights activists recently visited Japan and was shocked to discover that no Japanese human-rights organization were willing to take up this issue and that "none of the media have tracked this issue that has been going on for so many years."

Toru Goto's case is pivotal, Fefferman explained, because prosecutors have refused to indict the perpetrators, even though they are clearly known. "The police and the prosecution office did not arrest a single person," Goto said, "nor did they even obtain warrants to search for evidence. And on December 9, last year, the Tokyo Public Prosecutor's Office decided, quite incredibly, not to indict the accused. I cannot accept such a conclusion!"

While so-called "deprogramming" has been eliminated in the United States for nearly 20 years, there exists a well organized movement in Japan to kidnap Unification Church members and hold them against their will for months or even years at a time, Fefferman said. Japanese government officials turn a blind eye to these abuses and police refuse to investigate, viewing them as mere "family discussions."

During the last 40 years, an estimated 4,300 members of the Unification Church have been subjected to similar criminal practices in Japan.

"Deprogramming is a kind of spiritual rape involving kidnapping, false imprisonment, and a fundamental abuse of the human right to religious freedom," said Goto.

He appealed to the scholars at CESNUR to conduct objective research on the issue of religious kidnappings and to appeal to the Japanese government to crack down on the crimes. 

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