An unprecedented probe is being started with the stated aim of dissolving the Unification Church in Japan.
by Massimo Introvigne
Article 2 of 3. Read article 1.
In the first article of this series, I described the growing intolerance against the Unification Church (now called Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, FFWPU) in Japan after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Intolerance’s political role is to prepare discrimination, i.e., legal and administrative measures targeting an unpopular minority.
The Religious Corporation Act (RCA) of Japan allows for an administrative investigation of religious bodies that may result in a litigation aimed at the dissolution of the relevant religious organization under Article 81 RCA. The dissolution is allowed when a religious corporation has “committed acts that are clearly found to substantially harm public welfare in violation of laws and regulations” and has “substantially deviated” from the typical purposes of a religious organization. An administrative investigation is allowed when a cause of dissolution is suspected to exist.
There have been two cases of such dissolution in the past in Japan. In both cases, the religious organizations had been found guilty of criminal activities by Japanese court of law in criminal cases. When opponents started claiming that a similar probe should be conducted against the FFWPU, Prime Minister Kishida wisely told the Lower House Budget Committee on October 18 that neither the FFWPU nor its legal representatives or leaders had been convicted of any crime. He also confirmed that violations of provisions of the Civil Code ascertained by courts in civil (as opposite to criminal) cases are not included among the “violations of laws” that may be a cause for dissolution.
However, his statement was vocally criticized by the anti-Unification-Church lobby and the media, whose pressure led Kishida just one day later, on October 19, to reverse his earlier statement and claim that a religious body can be investigated and dissolved even if it has been found guilty of objectionable practices in civil rather than in criminal cases.
The Prime Minister has indicated he had changed his mind based on the calls received by the hotline set up after the Abe assassination to receive complaints against the Unification Church. However, these complaints are recorded but not verified (anybody can call, with a true or false story), and the government’s own data indicate that they largely refer to incidents that allegedly happened several years ago. On the other hand, the complaints submitted to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs before the Abe assassination concerning the Unification Church had continuously decreased, from 229 in 2012 to less than 100 since 2015 and less than 30 in 2021.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology has thus announced that it will start a probe of the FFWPU and may then commence a litigation seeking a dissolution order. The “acts harming public welfare” justifying such and order are the alleged “spiritual sales” and the mistreatment of second-generation members, based on stories such as the one by “Ogawa” I discussed in the previous article of this series.
On October 25, according to media reports, “The Cultural Affairs Agency started collecting the opinions of experts before it launches an official probe of the Unification Church that could lead to its dissolution.”
The FFWPU is a law-abiding organization, and its Japanese branch has already stated that it will answer any question the authorities may have and supply any requested document. I am not a member of the FFWPU, however, and feel at liberty to state that the probe is grossly unfair and violates several provisions of international human rights law.
First, as mentioned earlier, before the Abe assassination the Ministry of Consumer Affairs collected complaints about possibly fraudulent practices of religious organizations. In 2021, more than 98% of the complaints concerned groups other than the Unification Church/FFWPU. The only reason to single out the FFWPU now is that the pressures of the anti-Unification-Church lobby and the media created a political and electoral problem for the government. However, the fact that a group is unpopular and that “public opinion” (which is easily manipulated by media in turn influenced by lobbies) is in favor of its persecution does not justify a crackdown.
Second, probing in view of requesting its dissolution a religious organization that has not been found guilty of any crime is unprecedented in Japan’s legal history and contrasts with Japan’s ICCPR obligations with respect to freedom of religion or belief, as Prime Minister Kishida himself originally stated before being put under pressure to change his mind.
Third, the fact that the FFWPU has been singled out for special hostile treatment and the attitude of politicians is a pointer to the fact that the FFWPU can hardly expect fair treatment and a serious consideration of its defenses. Rather than being presumed innocent, the FFWPU is presumed guilty from the very beginning of the process.