The fake news spread against the Unification Church after the assassination of Shinzo Abe in Japan are reminiscent of the campaigns against Tai Ji Men in Taiwan.
by Peter Zoehrer*
* A paper presented at the webinar “For a Correct Information on the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on September 29, 2022, after the International Day for Universal Access to Information (September 28).
Less than three months ago, on July 8, 2022, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was murdered. The assassination was allegedly committed by a man who hated the Unification Church because his mother was a member and supported the Church’s activities.
Since then, an unprecedented campaign of intolerance, discrimination, and persecution of the “Unification Church” has started in Japan, where media outlets, government officials, and lawyers have joined forces to blame the Church for the assassination of Prime Minister Abe.
Japan’s History of Religious Intolerance
During the Meiji revolution in 1868 Japan kicked off an era of major political, economic, and social change. The Meiji period (1868–1912) brought about a stunning modernization and Westernization of the country.
However, the progress of the implementation of fundamental freedoms such as religious freedom and freedom of the press has been rather slow, due to deep rooted social and cultural parameters of Japanese society.
Especially the persecution of Christians has continued for centuries and has been an almost permanent feature of Japan’s history.
After the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in 1614, it ceased to exist publicly. Many Catholics went underground, becoming hidden Christians, while others lost their lives. Only after the Meiji Restoration, was Christianity re- established in Japan.
Today, the country has only one percent of Christians among a population of over 125 million. There are currently around 100,000 Muslims in Japan. The major religions are Shintoism and Buddhism. 70% of the population declares not to adhere to any religious beliefs.
Most large Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Eastern Orthodox churches, are represented in Japan today.
The False Narrative or Fake News as a Tool of Oppression
I would propose a comparison between Taiwan and Japan. In Taiwan, Tai Ji Men’s Shifu (Grand Master) and dizi (disciples) had never committed the crimes they were accused of, including tax evasion. In Japan, the members of the Unification Church have not committed the crimes they have been accused of.
In Taiwan, the Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen’s persecution of Tai Ji Men offered since 1996 a textbook example of spreading fake news to support the persecution of a spiritual movement. He accused them of “raising goblins,” and of practicing black magic—an absolutely ridiculous charge and a totally false narrative.
In Japan, within the assault on the Unification Movement the opponents primarily attacked through spreading false narratives by manipulating the media. Without shame, even major Western media outlets repeated the lies and the hate speech.
Here I would like to quote Dr. Massimo Introvigne who eloquently described how fake news and the false narrative have been used by Communist and anti- religious forces to destroy opponents: “The Terror of the French Revolution killed some 30,000 priests, nuns, and lay Catholics. To excite the public opinion against the Catholic Church, the architects of the terror used an argument they knew is always effective: money. Countless pamphlets, gazette articles, and caricatures showed greedy priests ruining families by soliciting extravagant donations. Communist propaganda learned and applied the lesson. When Mongolia was under a Communist regime, some 60,000 Buddhist monks were killed. The regime prepared it with a massive propaganda poster campaign, where monks were depicted as vampires sucking the blood of the Mongolian population by asking for heavy donations. We are now witnessing the same propaganda at work against the Unification Church/Family Federation in Japan after the assassination of Shinzo Abe. The assassin claimed he wanted to punish Abe for having sent videos to two events of an organization connected with the Unification Church, a group he hated because he believed his mother’s donations to it had led her to bankruptcy.”
In Taiwan, there was a clear political motivation in the crackdown targeting Tai Ji Men and other groups after the 1996 presidential elections. In Japan, leftist lawyers and media have a double motive to destroy the Unification movement.
The first motive may be revenge. During the 1960s, the Unification Church had co-founded an organization called VOC (Victory over Communism). This initiative was launched to counter the rapid infiltration and escalation of the atheist Communist ideology in Japan. In cooperation with patriotic politicians, the project was extremely successful, and the progress of Marxism and Communism in Japan was considerably slowed down. This was never forgotten nor forgiven by Japan’s extreme left. Since then they have made several attempts to destroy their declared enemy, the Unification Church.
Another reason for the political left’s rage against the Unification movement may be its tireless support for the patriotic policies of the LDP, the Liberal Democratic Party, which PM Shinzo Abe was heading. Among these policies were the creation of a strong military defense, the alignment with pro-western values, a pro-American foreign policy, a close cooperation with South Korea, the re- unification of the Korean peninsula, and a strong support of alliances that may counter the growing Chinese assertiveness.
It is shocking and alarming to see how anti-Unification Church lawyers and others have used the Japanese media to twist a national tragedy into a bizarre narrative that makes the alleged assassin into a victim of the Unification Church and blames the Church for the assassination. The roles of perpetrator and victim have been totally reversed.
Since then, every day, Church members have suffered hundreds of personal attacks, assaults, death threats, acts of vandalism, and other forms of public abuse. Currently there is no end of these egregious atrocities in sight.
By now it is obvious that a grave miscarriage of justice is being carried out by some misguided people in Japan. The Unification Church, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, works with its affiliated organizations to build peace around the world. Its members abhor hate speech, religious persecution, gun violence, and using the media to spread rumors and false allegations.
This is, again, similar to the situation of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan. Its Shifu and dizi are unanimously acknowledged for their outstanding work on behalf of world peace, love, and conscience. Yet, paradoxically, they were persecuted and harassed through ill-founded tax bill and media slander.
Two weeks ago the French human rights advocacy group CAP-LC filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee denouncing the persecution of the Unification Church in Japan. Now members of the Family Federation hope, that the UN will quickly investigate this complaint and stand up for religious freedom in Japan. The same CAP-LC has filed several statements with the UN Human Rights Council denouncing the harassment of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan, the last one in the session that started on September 12.