Japanese man wins landmark lawsuit
on religious oppression
Washinton, Feb 1 2014 (The Washington Times) – A Japanese man who had been kidnapped by family members and subjected to violent attempts to renounce his religion has won a court ruling against his captors, an outcome religious freedom advocates applaud while saying more needs to done to stop religious oppression in Japan.
Toru Goto, a member of the Unification Church, this week was awarded the equivalent of $47,000 by a Tokyo District Court.
“My heartfelt wish is that this will be of help in eradicating kidnapping and confinement,” Mr. Goto, 50, said during a news conference in Tokyo. “With the opportunity provided by this victory, I hope that Japan, which guarantees freedom and human rights, can at least become a country where people do not have to fear daily being kidnapped and confined because of their faith.”
A spokesman for the Unification Church said Thursday that the verdict is welcome news. Michael Balcomb, president of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in the United States, said it “brings the Unification Church in Japan one step closer to closing the sad chapter on forced conversions.”
Religion in Japan is strongly represented by Shintoism and Buddhism, though newer religions such as the Unification Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are gaining popularity.
Last year, the U.S. Committee on International Religious Freedom cited Japan’s judicial system for turning a blind eye to the kidnapping and forced deprogramming of people in the Unification Church and other “new religious movements” over the past several decades.
“In some extreme cases, as with Unification Church member Toro [sic] Goto, individuals were confined against their will for a decade or more,” the committee said in its 2013 report. “Those abducted describe psychological harassment and physical abuse by both family members and ‘professional deprogrammers.’ Police and judicial authorities have neither investigated nor indicted those responsible for these acts, often citing lack of evidence.”
Scott Flipse, the committee’s deputy director of policy, expressed pleasure Thursday with outcome of the Goto case, saying the panel hopes “his judgment sends the signal that forced renunciations of faith cannot continue with impunity.”
The Japanese Embassy and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment. However, the State Department cited Japan for inaction in religious oppression cases such as Mr. Goto’s in its 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.
The Washington Times was founded by the Unification Church in 1982, and now operates independently of the Church.
Mr. Goto filed a lawsuit against his brother, sister and sister-in-law, as well as professional deprogrammer Takashi Miyamur, and Yasutomo Matsunaga, a Christian minister. All but Mr. Matsunaga were found liable.
Dan Fefferman, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, said the ruling is important because “the top deprogrammer in Japan was held culpable in a court of law. That’s important because makes it difficult for him to operate.”
“It’s a very important case because it’s very rare for a court to find in favor of victims of deprogramming in Japan,” he added.
Freedom Rights Project co-founder Aaron Rhodes, called the court’s $47,000 reward “paltry,” but said it was an important first step.
“Finally the Japanese judicial system is waking up to religious discrimination and a bit more ready to act despite taboos that have no place in a democracy.”
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Doug Burton
media relations HSA UWC
Family Federation for World Peace
Phone: (202) 203-9883
Friday, January 31, 2014
Tokyo Court Rules in Favor of Unificationist Held Captive
New York, NY – Unificationists in Japan are applauding the verdict of a Tokyo District Court that decided in favor of a member of their religion held against his will for 12 and a half years. Mr. Toru Goto, 50, sued two professional deprogrammers, his brother, his sister and his sister-in-law for kidnapping him in September 1995 and holding him in various condo prisons until releasing him in an emaciated condition in February 2008. The court on Jan. 28, 2014 fined Goto’s relatives and deprogrammer Takashi Miyamura an amount equivalent to $47,000.
The verdict was greeted with enthusiasm by human rights activists, who expressed hope that the verdict will represent an important precedent. “I am so very happy for him and all the victims of this horrible practice against human rights!” said Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of the Washington-DC-based Leadership Council for Human Rights.
Dan Fefferman, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom, added:
“We are hopeful that this will be a turning point for Japan. In the United States, deprogramming didn’t come to an end until the courts made it clear that the perpetrators of this crime would be punished.”
“This is welcome news indeed, and it brings our religious community in Japan one step closer to closing the sad chapter on forced conversions” said Dr. Michael Balcomb, President of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (FFWPU) in the United States. “But the good news is that Mr. Toru Goto is a victor in the end, having recovered his dignity, found a good spouse and now has children. He is in the company of many American Unificationists who likewise survived deprogrammings — though 30 years ago – and today are watching their children get married in the Marriage Blessing of 2014.”
Mr. Goto told the court he made many attempts to escape the condos where his relatives held him prisoner, but he was caught every time. In frustration, he went on three hunger strikes, each of 21 days or more. In retaliation, his captors stopped giving him solid food, and he was severely emaciated when they kicked him out of their apartment in 2008.
The ruling acknowledged that the professional deprogrammers performed a key role in guiding the Goto relatives to confine Toru Goto in an attempt to force him to recant. For decades, the professional deprogrammers have denied that they use coercion of any kind.
Following the ruling in his favor, Mr. Goto held a press conference at the Judicial Reporters Club in Tokyo together with the plaintiff’s attorney, Mr. Nobuya Fukumoto and Mr. Mamoru Kamono, Director of Public Information for the FFWPU of Japan. “My heartfelt wish is that this will be of help in eradicating kidnapping and confinement,” he said.
During the conference, Mr. Goto reflected on the three years since he filed the civil suit in January 2010, saying, “In the course of the trial, I had to recall the times of my confinement, which was painful, but I am pleased by the single point that the culpability of deprogrammer Mr. Takashi Miyamura was recognized.”
He also reminded reporters that abductions of Unificationists continue in Japan.
“Among church members who visited their homes this New Year, some were kidnapped and are now being coerced to leave the church,” Goto said. He added: “With the opportunity provided by this victory, I hope that Japan, which guarantees freedom and human rights, can at least become a country where people do not have to fear daily, being kidnapped and confined because of their faith.”
Documents and/or Photos available for this release:
Toru Goto at a press conference in Japan in 2011.
To view supporting documents and/or photos, go to http://www.enr-corp.com/pressroom and enter Release ID: 367135