The Words of the Goto Family

Goto case nears a verdict -- will justice be done?

Dan Fefferman
December 2013

Mr. Goto was confined against his will for twelve years and five months but he never abandoned his faith.

Toru Goto, the Japanese Unificationist who endured more than twelve years' secret confinement by relatives intent on breaking his faith, could receive a measure of justice when a Japanese court issues its verdict on January 28. However, past cases brought by victims of "deprogramming" in Japan have not always ended in a fair ruling. Indeed, although Japan is constitutionally committed to religious freedom, the Japanese justice system often turns a blind eye to blatant human rights crimes against Unification Church members. It tends to see such cases as mere "family matters," even though the victims are adults and the crimes include serious offenses, including kidnapping, false imprisonment and prolonged mental and physical abuse.

Toru Goto was thirty-one years old when his family abducted and confined him, isolating him from any contact with the outside world and subjecting him to intense pressure to renounce his faith. He was forty-four when they finally admitted failure and released him. "I was stripped of my human dignity and robbed of a precious period of my life," Mr. Goto said in a court hearing on March 11, 2013.

Mr. Goto has characterized the faith-breaking process that he and other Unificationists have endured as "spiritual rape." In a speech to church members in Seoul, he described his ordeal in detail: "The physical abuse was horrible, but what was more severe was the spiritual battle while confined. The sole goal of the `deprogrammers' is to destroy Unificationists' faith."

Mr. Goto joined the church after his brother introduced him and his sister to its teachings. His parents, however, opposed their children's new faith. Although the Goto siblings were all adults, the parents could not accept their right to adopt their own faith. Each of the siblings was consequently kidnapped and forcibly confined during the 1980s. Mr. Goto's brother and sister both renounced the church under this duress, but Toru Goto only faked apostasy and was able to escape during "rehabilitation" after several weeks of confinement in 1987. Feeling utterly betrayed and fearing to place himself in jeopardy of another traumatic ordeal, he cut off communication with his family until 1990.

After gradually rebuilding trust, Mr. Goto began visiting his family for holidays and other special occasions. Then, on September 11, 1995, during one such visit, his relatives violently forced him into a van and brought him to a specially prepared confinement room in Niigata. They held him there for a year and ten months, entirely cut off from communication with friends, fellow Unificationists and even his fiancée. Throughout this phase of his confinement, his family and Evangelical pastor Matsunaga Yasutomo consistently pressured him to renounce his faith. After about three and a half months, Mr. Goto once again pretended to have been convinced that he should leave the church. He submitted a written renunciation, but since he had previously faked apostasy in order to escape, his captors continued holding him.

When Mr. Goto's father died in June 1997, he was not allowed to attend the actual funeral, where he could easily attract attention. Eight people guarded him when he paid his final respects. Soon after his father's death, Mr. Goto was transferred to a new prison- apartment, located in Tokyo, where he was held until December -1997. His final move was to the Ogikubo Flower Home apartment building, also in Tokyo, a complex frequently used by deprogrammers to hold their kidnapping victims. These moves and the excursion to pay his respects to his deceased father were the only times he was allowed out of doors for twelve-years.

Two years had already passed since Mr. Goto agreed to renounce his faith, but there was still no sign of release. It became impossible for him to continue pretending. "My mental situation was almost reaching a breaking point," he related. So, unable to bear the burden of pretending apostasy with little hope of escape, Mr. Goto confessed to his brother that he was still a believer after all. Immediately, deprogrammers were brought in again. It would be more than decade before Mr. Goto left the small apartment.

The primary orchestrator of this criminal abuse of human rights was a certain Takashi Miyamura. Unlike others of his ilk -- many of whom are Christian ministers operating under a misguided sense of mission -- Mr. Miyamura is a notorious professional deprogrammer that has established a lucrative business by convincing parents that they require his services. He also heads an organization known as Mizukuki-kai, a supposed support group for parents of current and former Unification Church members. In reality, it serves as a recruiting and intelligence arm of Miyamura's illegal deprogramming activities.

Mr. Miyamura and his colleagues began "uncompromising deprogramming work to force me to abandon my faith," Mr. Goto testified. "He visited the room almost daily. Several people accompanied him, both male and female. From seven to twelve people -- consisting of Miyamara, members of my family and former Unification Church members -- gathered in the room, and they flung words of criticism, defamation and abuse at me."

Mr. Goto, second from right, testified in 2012 at a Universal Periodic Review at the UN Office in Geneva; on screen is another kidnapping survivor that fractured her spine in an escape attempt.

Mr. Goto tried to escape by attempting to unlock the front door and leave the apartment, "I was grabbed by my brother, pushed down and caught. I was shocked to know that my physical strength had gotten much weaker than I had thought."

Meanwhile, after several years without hearing from him, church members presumed that Mr. Goto's written recantation was authentic. His fiancée, with whom he had been blessed, found another marriage partner. He appeared to be one more of the thousands of members that have been lost to the persecution of the deprogrammers.

Mr. Goto was held for ten years at his final location. He was not allowed outside even to take an escorted walk. With no exercise or fresh air, his heath began to deteriorate perilously. Yet his captors refused him the right to see a doctor, even when he became sick with flu and a high fever. Many times, he shouted to neighbors, banged on the walls, or called through ventilation ducts for aid, but no one came to his assistance. He fought depression, anxiety and hopelessness, stubbornly clinging to his faith.

For years, deprogrammer Miyamura and his disciples -- many of them recent Unification Church members required to join in the "deprogramming" sessions as part of their "recovery" -- frequently visited the apartment, working to break Mr. Goto's faith. Eventually, however, they stopped coming. Nevertheless, Mr. Goto's relatives still would not let him leave. In protest, after having endured more than seven years of confinement, Mr. Goto went on three hunger strikes between 2004 and 2006, two for twenty-one days and one for thirty days. To punish him for his stubbornness, afterward, his family provided him with substandard meals, not only preventing him from regaining his normal weight, but causing him to become severely malnourished. He explains that his emaciated appearance after his release was due to this intentional mistreatment and not his hunger strikes, which concluded two years before his release.

Finally, on February 10, 2008, after discussing the extended financial burden that renting the apartment and guarding against Mr. Goto's escape imposed, the family suddenly ordered him to leave. He reports that they were enraged that he still would not renounce his faith. They angrily pushed him out of the apparent and locked the door behind him, throwing his shoes after him. With inadequate clothing to fight the cold in the midst of winter, and no identification or money, he pondered his next move. He contacted the police but they refused to help him, rejecting the explanation that he had been held captive for years mere blocks from the police station. So Mr. Goto began walking the several miles to the downtown church center.

With atrophied muscles and suffering from exposure, his legs could not carry him far. He used a stick as crutch; at times lie had to crawl. Not knowing the precise location of the church headquarters, he asked passersby for directions as he neared the vicinity. By a seeming miracle, the third person he asked happened to be a church member. She informed him of the location and helped him with taxi fare. Arriving at the center late at night, he was met by a watchman who called the church's legal affairs officer specializing in deprogramming cases.

Mr. Goto was immediately admitted to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with malnutrition, severely atrophied leg muscles and joint problems. He filed criminal charges against his relatives, as well as both deprogrammers. However, as is often the case in Japan, authorities were uncooperative. Since a lawyer was now involved, the police had to accept Mr. Goto's complaint, but they did not obtain a search warrant or arrest a single person. Thus, they failed to gather essential information needed for an indictment. In a supreme irony, in December 2009, the public prosecutor's office then proceeded to drop the case based on "insufficient evidence."

Mr. Goto appealed the prosecutor's decision but to no avail. With the criminal justice system utterly ignoring the injustice done to him, he filed a civil lawsuit in January 2011. Named as defendants were his mother, brother, sister, sister-law and the two deprogrammers. The amount of damages claimed is approximately two million U.S. dollars. Considering the loss of more than twelve years, the destruction of his pending marriage, the damage to his health, physical abuse, prolonged false imprisonment, the violation of his civil rights and the mental anguish he was forced to endure, the sum is extremely modest by Western legal standards. A final verdict was expected in December 2013, but has been postponed until January 28, 2014.

Mr. Miyamura's lawyer, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, is the secretary general of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, an anti-Unification Church movement in Japan composed of about three hundred attorneys. He has argued that there was no abduction or forced confinement; Mr. Goto willingly remained in the alleged confinement places the entire time. The reason he did not leave is that he was strongly committed to the Unification Church's teaching of "tribal messiahship" and was absolutely determined to convert his family to the Unification Church at all costs. Mr. Yamaguchi even claims that the entrance door was chained and padlocked and other security measures taken not to imprison Mr. Goto, but to prevent Unification Church members from breaking in and seizing him against his will.

An important witness supporting Mr. Goto's view was Kiyomi Miyama, a Unification Church member who had been confined in the same apartment building. Ms. Miyama was held against her will for more than two-and-half years and was forced to have her blessed marriage legally annulled as a condition of her release.

As part of her "rehabilitation," she was required to participate in attempts to break the faith of other Unification Church members. She was thus taken upstairs to Mr. Goto's apartment and became an eyewitness to the fact that he was being held against his will and pressed to renounce his faith.

Ms. Miyama explains that she herself actually did renounce her faith at the time. However, she gradually regained her faith after several more years and is now a practicing Unificationist again. However, her marriage was irremediable and she remains estranged from her family. Her testimony could prove vital, as it constitutes crucial third-party evidence confirming that Mr. Goto was not in the apartment voluntarily.

Free at Last: Mr. Goto expresses his outrage at the injustice done to him to his fellow Japanese citizens.

Japan's Legal System

The Unification Church of Japan reports that more than 4,300 Unification Church members have been kidnapped in that country over the past four decades. In other democratic nations, deprogramming was eliminated in the 1980s as courts clarified that the right to religious freedom prohibits the parents of adult children from interfering in their religious choices. The infamous American deprogrammer Ted Patrick was jailed on more than one occasion for his role in kidnap-deprogramming, as were several others. Also the so-called Cult Awareness Network was found guilty of conspiring to deprive members of new religions of their civil rights and forced out of business. European courts also upheld the rights of believers in new religions to practice their faith regardless of the objections of their families of origin. As a result, deprogramming in the United States and Europe is virtually non-existent today.

Japan's history of deprogramming began around the same time that the phenomenon emerged in the West, but its courts have not yet stopped the abuse. In part, this is because of Japan's value system, which puts a high priority on children's obedience to parents, even after the child has become an adult. Despite the large numbers of victims and many official complaints to the police, not one criminal prosecution has been carried out against deprogrammers in Japan. Several notable civil cases have left a checkered record in Japan's courts.

Only one case, that of Mrs. Hiroko Tomizawa, clearly ruled against the deprogrammers and parents. Another, Mrs. Rie Imari's case, reached the Supreme Court, but was settled with no penalties after the parents agree to respect the Unification Church member's religious freedom. A third, the case of Mitsuko Ishikawa Antal, ended with the court -- although it recognized that the victim was held against her will and pressured to the leave the church -- refusing to impose any sanctions against the defendants, because it was a "family matter."

If the current court follows the precedent set by the Supreme Court in the Antal case, the future of religious freedom for Unificationists in Japan is bleak. On the other hand, a clear ruling in favor or Mr. Goto, including serious sanctions against the defendants, could signal an important change in Japan's legal policy.

Currently, police usually pay little attention to reports of missing persons when the person is a Unification Church member. Even when lawyers bring affidavits from the suspected victim requesting that the police investigate in case she or he disappears, authorities routinely reject the complaints on the grounds that they can receive missing persons reports only from relatives. Explanations that it is the relatives who are the suspected kidnappers fall on deaf ears.

Fortunately, international awareness of Japan's substandard religious freedom policy has been growing. The U.S. State Department has reported on deprogramming and "forced de- conversion" in Japan as a "restriction on religious freedom" every year since 2002. Members of the U.S. Congress and of European parliaments have visited Japan on fact finding missions and expressed serious concerns. NGOs and human rights activists have also raised their voices. In 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a strongly worded statement confirming that "police and judicial authorities have neither investigated nor prosecuted these acts." Even more recently, the UN Human Rights Committee required Japan to formally address "reports of cases of abduction, forced conversion and forced de-conversion, which were not investigated and prosecuted by [Japan]."

We can only hope that such expressions of concern from the international community will move Japan to honor its moral and constitutional obligation to protect the religious freedom of its citizenry. In the meantime, we can all pray the court in the Goto case will pronounce a just verdict.

Deprogrammer Caught in a Blatant Lie

In his court testimony, deprogrammer Yasutomo Matsunaga stated, "I was just asked by family members to participate in their discussion. Of course, I always participated in the discussion only with the consent of Unification Church believers. Since it was a family discussion, family members took full responsibility and I am in no way responsible for it."

However, Mr. Goto's lawyer introduced a video clip of Rev. Matsunaga giving specific guidance on confinement. Also introduced was a "kidnapping and confinement manual," hand-written by Matsunaga, that describes concrete methods of abduction and confinement.

Deprogrammer Miyamura Contradicts Himself

On June 17, deprogrammer Takashi Miyamura testified. He claimed that he was just a counselor asked by family members to participate in their "family discussion" with Mr. Goto's consent. However, in the book "What Parents Should Know," he gives the following advice to parents:

"It is extremely dangerous for you to be the judge of this...there is no other way than to depend on an experienced counselor for this judgment."

"The point is to seek out an expert and request actual rescue counseling... Once you have found a counselor who is reliable, you should entrust things to his hands, without any doubt."

Kiyomi Miyama's Testimony

I was kidnapped in mid-February 1996 and submitted to forced de-conversion for two years and seven months. Mr. Miyamura visited my room and persuaded me to leave the church.

When he confirmed that I had lost my faith, he forced me to accompany him to persuade other Unification Church members that were also confined at that time, including Mr. Goto, who was locked in a room on the upper level of the same apartment building. I visited Mr. Goto's room in 1998.

When a former member of the Unification Church knocked on the front door, Mr. Goto's relative opened the heavy lock and let us in. A member of his family locked the door again from inside with chains and a padlock behind us. When I was taken to the room, Miyamura and others were already there, speaking to Mr. Goto.

His head was drooped the whole time that Miyamura was showering him with words of criticism. I felt terrible stress in the anguished, tense atmosphere of this persuasion. I felt very, very sorry for Mr. Goto, who cast his eyes down. Therefore, I could not say anything to him. When we left the room, Mr. Goto's family member unlocked the front door for us and relocked it after we stepped out.

Hiroko Tomizawa

In June 1997, a group of about twenty thugs, including an ex-policeman and private detectives attacked a local Unification Church in Tottori. Armed with an electric stun gun, chains and an iron pipe, they injured four church members and forcibly abducted Hiroko Tomizawa. The next day, a Unification Church staff member tried to file a criminal complaint with the Tottori police, but the officer refused to accept it, saying, "We are busy; you should not bring such a case." Ms. Tomizawa was confined in three apartments over the next fifteen months. A Protestant minister, Mamoru Takazawa, came to her places of detention and attempted to break her faith. After her escape, both Ms. Tomizawa and the church brought charges against the attackers and kidnappers. However, the police delayed beginning an investigation until a Diet hearing on deprogramming brought pressure on the chief of National Police in April 2000. Even after that, the Tottori prosecutor's office refused to indict the perpetrators. Thus, no criminal charges were brought. However the both the Unification Church and Ms. Tomizawa won their cases in a civil court, the clearest example of a Japanese court ruling in favor of the victim in such a case. 

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