The Words of the Fefferman Family

Forced Conversion in Japan: Justice Turned Upside Down

Dan Fefferman
November, 2002

Japanese people often joke about how everything we do in the west is backwards. We read from left to right; they read from right to left. We greet each other "horizontally" by shaking hands; they greet each other "vertically" by bowing. We sleep on our sides or stomach, facing the earth; they sleep on their backs, facing heaven. This time though, the Japanese are the ones that have got it backwards.

In several shocking court cases, Japanese judges have given a virtual free pass to the practice of forced religious conversion, while criminalizing voluntary arranged marriages in a religious tradition.

The legal controversies involve adult members or ex-members of the Unification Church, founded by the Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon of Korea. In theory, Japanese law recognizes all of those involved as adults responsible to make their own decisions in matters of religion and marriage. But in practice, the courts seem to have ruled that they not dealing with adults acting of their own accord, but either with children in their mid-late 20s or with people not acting under their own free will.

Earlier this year, after an adult Unificationist had been physically kidnapped and forcibly confined against her will for 70 days in order to make her leave the church, the Tokyo District Court refused to grant either injunctive or monetary relief to the victim. The victim, Mitsuko Antal, currently lives in Korea with her American husband. She was forcibly confined on two separate occasions. Today, after the court refused her request for an injunction against further attempts to "deprogram" her, she fears even to bring her two children to her hometown to visit their grandparents.

While the Japanese courts thus refuse to protect the freedom of Unificationists to believe and practice their religious faith, ex-members of the church receive lucrative judgments. On August 22 another court granted damages of 9 million yen ($75,000) to three plaintiffs who alleged that the Unification Church (UC) had "forced" them to marry "against their will" in one of the churchís mass marriages ceremonies. In this case, there was no question of physical force, while in the Antal case, the court found that physical force was indeed used.

Worse than the monetary damages for the church is the courtís finding that in this case the churchís practice of arranged marriages was "illegal." Such a finding strikes at the heart of the churchís theology and tradition, in which members usually opted to have Reverend Moon recommend a marriage partner.

In a second deprogramming case tried this year, 20 deprogrammers and their colleagues had used chains and a lead pipe to break into a church building and brutally attack the pastor with a stun-gun. Their target was Hiroko Tomizawa, a 31-year-old female UC member. The deprogrammers dragged the struggling Mrs. Tomizawa out the door and forcibly confined her in secret for 15 months. She finally escaped and returned to the church. After a drawn-out court battle, the Hiroshima High Court overturned a lower courtís decision to grant the her injunctive relief and reduced the monetary judgment to a mere $1,200 -- including only $800 for damages and $400 for her attorneyís fees. Again this was despite the courtís finding of fact that physical force was clearly used both to kidnap and to confine Mrs. Tomizawa for an extended period of time in order to get her to renounce her faith.

Unification Church members say they feel victimized by the current climate of intolerance toward new religions brought about by Japanís understandable outrage against the Aum Shinrikyo sect. They also point out that Japanís judicial policy protects the illegal actions of certain rival Christian ministers who are actively involved in the deprogramming activities.

According to the testimony of Mitsuko Antal, a mainstream Christian minister named Yoshio Shimizo both advised her parents to confine her and actively participated in her attempted forced conversion, knowing full well that she was being held against her will. She also claims that he pushed her around the locked apartment in which she was confined, struck her on at least one occasion, and threatened her with further violence if she did not renounce her plans to marry her fiancé in a UC wedding.

Antal eventually decided to pretend that she had lost her faith in order to find a means of escape. She claims that Shimizu agreed that the special locking devices on the apartmentís windows could be removed. While her captorsí guard was down, she opened the verandah window and dropped two floors to the ground, fracturing her hip in the process. Despite extreme pain, she was able to escape and return to her fiancé and their church.

Mitsukoís husband Chris is intent on getting justice for himself and his wife, who is now the mother of their two boys. "Itís not just for ourselves that we want this," says Chris. "We need to send a message to the deprogrammers that their crimes will not go unpunished."

The practice of forcible deprogramming of adult members of new religions was common in the US during the 1970ís and Ď80s until criminal cases and lawsuits such as the Antalís put the deprogrammers out of business.

Despite numerous complaints to Japanese police by deprogramming victims, however, Japanese prosecutors have not filed even one criminal case enforcing their laws against kidnapping or forcible confinement in such cases.

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