JAPAN: Husband and wife abducted and confined for the purpose of forced religious de-conversion

Tokyo – On July 26th, 2014, two members of the Unification Church in Japan, Mr. and Mrs. S., both in their 40’s, were kidnapped by their respective relatives under the direction of an Evangelical Minister, Mamoru Takawaza, leaving their two children behind.

This is an additional case of abduction of religious minorities’ followers for the purpose of forced de-conversion in Japan. Families influenced by prejudice have resorted to Evangelical ministers over the last thirty years for advice on abducting and confining their over-age children to have them “persuaded” under constraint to recant their minority faith.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee during its sixth periodic review of Japan expressed concern, in its Concluding Observations released on 23rd July 2014, “at reports of abductions and forced confinement of converts to new religious movements by members of their families in an effort to de-convert them.” The Committee recommended that Japan “should take effective measures to guarantee the right of every person not to be subject to coercion which would impair his or her freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief” pursuant to Article 18.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In spite of the clear recommendation made by the Committee, the Japanese police did not put an end immediately to Mr. and Mrs. S.’s confinement when they were asked to take action to rescue them.

The facts: A double simultaneous abduction

Mr. S.’s parents visited his house and picked him up saying “Let’s go to the hospital to see our relative.” After he sat in the car, they banded his both hands and ankles with cords. They brought him to an apartment in Osaka City and confined him.

Mrs. S.’s parents invited her to their home in Hiroshima City. She visited them with her two children: a son (8 years old) and a daughter (3 years old). While her mother took her grand-daughter out for shopping, she stayed with her son asleep at home. Suddenly, male relatives including her father attacked her. They tied her hands and ankles with cords, wrapped her into a sleeping bag and banded the sleeping bag with strings. In spite of her frantic struggle, they conveyed her into a wagon type car and took her to Osaka City to the same apartment where her husband had already been brought, and which was especially equipped for their confinement.

While taken into the flat, she screamed and the neighbors called the police. When the police came to the apartment, her father and Minister Takazawa persuaded them that this was just a “talk” between family members about her religious affiliation with the Unification Church and the police did not do anything to rescue her at this point.

Confinement and lucky rescue

Mr. and Mrs. S. had been deprived of their mobile phones by their relatives, so they could not contact outside people. However, two days later on 28th July, Mrs. S. managed to send a distress email to members of the Unification Church (UC) in Hiroshima asking them for rescue. Those members went to the police and showed them her e-mail. The police promised to investigate but after Minister Takazawa and Mr. and Mrs. S.’s fathers gave their explanation of the situation, the police concluded that this was “not a case”.

On July 31st at midnight, Mrs. S. managed to make an emergency call to the police using her mother’s mobile phone while she was asleep and asked for rescue saying she was confined with her husband by five or six persons. The police then had to act and finally five or six policemen went to the apartment. They found that the couple was actually confined and that the situation was actually a criminal case. The victims were released from the apartment and were able to go home and pick their children up safely.

The couple’s rescue was only due to the luck of Mrs. S. in getting access to a mobile phone and being able to make a distress call to the police direct. All the previous cases of abduction and confinement did not have this opportunity and the Japanese police have turned a blind eye on these abuses.

The long-standing inaction policy of the police and the Prosecutors’ offices

The legal provisions governing the search for missing persons in Japan are the “Rules on activities to find a missing person”, which are based on the Police Act of Japan and which binds the police forces.

Chapter 2 Article 6 of the Rules states that when a person goes missing, the chief of police who has jurisdiction over the domicile or residence of the person shall receive a notification on the missing person (“missing-person report”) from relatives but also from “persons who have close relationship with the missing person in social life”.

In spite of these clear legal provisions, the police has consistently over the years refused to take action or even to accept a missing person report as far as Unification Church members were concerned, considering legitimate the endeavors from relatives to have their over-age children snatched from their religious affiliation. The police have justified their discriminatory policy with statements like “criminal law does not intervene in family matters” or “If the case is between parents and a child, even involving some violence, the police cannot intervene”.

In some cases, the police inaction turned into active support.

A striking example of the police behavior and precedent was given in Kozue Terada’s case, a married woman who was confined for two months in 2001 at the age of thirty. Kozue was abducted under the direction of the same Evangelical Minister Takazawa (as the recently kidnapped couple), who visited her regularly during her confinement to coercively have her renounce her faith.

At the beginning of her confinement, Minister Takazawa, bragged to her about his connections with the police stating “Even if a policeman comes, as soon as he finds it is about the Divine Principle (main belief of the Unification Church), he will collaborate with me, saying ‘Keep on your good work!”. This actually showed to be true. Once Kozue Terada succeeded to get a message out calling for help and a policeman knocked on the front door. Minister Takazawa showed up and followed the policeman to the police station. He returned by himself an hour later and said “The police know me. They understood our situation and told me to be careful not to disturb the neighbors”.

Minister Takazawa had already been sentenced in 2000 to damages in a similar case where another woman believer, Ms. Hiroko T., was confined for 1 year and three months and coerced by Minister Takazawa to leave the Church. But in 2001, the Prosecutor’s Office dismissed her criminal complaint.

Encouraged by this lack of prosecution to continue his activities, Minister Takazawa bragged in a taped conversation with Kozue Terada to have organized hundreds of confinements and that he would continue because he wanted “everybody to believe in the true Jesus”.

Kozue Terada filed a civil suit against him and wan symbolic damages in January 2004.

However, when she filed a criminal complaint a few months later, the Prosecutor dismissed it and decided a “suspension of prosecution” which, per the internal rule of the Ministry of Justice, Kunrei, means that the Prosecutor found that the criminal acts were established but he deemed prosecution “unnecessary” owing to the “circumstances” of the offense.

Carte blanche from the Japanese authorities

This policy of the Japanese authorities amounts to giving carte blanche to these Ministers to continue their criminal activities.

Kozue Terada has finally filed in 2013 an allegation letter with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, together with a dozen of other victims of these practices.

On the other hand the UN Human Rights Committee experts asked very sharp questions on this issue to the Japanese Minister of Justice during their review on 16 July 2014.

However, the Japanese police when requested to rescue new victims refused to take action on 28 July. The only reason why these victims were finally released was that they managed to call the police directly. Another missing young man, Masato I., follower of the Unification Church, has not had this chance and has been missing since 2 January 2014 on the occasion of a family visit. In spite of the power-of-attorney he wrote to his lawyer to search him in case he disappeared, and the distress signal he sent, the police has to this day refused to rescue him.

Japan thereby does not honor its international human rights commitments and violates the provisions of Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.