While the practice of kidnapping members of controversial religious movements for the purpose of “deprogramming” them has virtually disappeared from Europe and North America, cases continue to be reported in Japan, said Dan Fefferman, president of the International Coalition for Religious Freedom (a Unification Church-funded organization), at a session of the European Leadership Conference (a Unification Church-sponsored initiative as well) that took place at the United Nations in Geneva on March 25 attended by RW.
The issue had been mentioned last November in the yearly US International Religious Freedom Report as one of the few issues of abuse based on religious affiliation in Japan, although these cases “could not be independently confirmed.” According to Fefferman, more than 4,300 people have been abducted and kept in solitary confinement in Japan over the past 40 years due to their conversion to a religious group. Most of them were members of the Unification Church. There have also been around 100 cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1990s, although this has not taken place recently, Fefferman told RW in an interview. Isolated cases of members of other, small groups have been recorded too. About one third of those abducted escaped and returned to their religious group.
There was a peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with up to 300 abductions over a year. In recent years, however, possibly because of a lesser growth of the Unification Church, as well as an increased tendency among escapees to appeal to the law, there have been only about 10 to 12 suspected cases per year. There are some significant differences between earlier deprogramming cases in the West and ongoing cases in Japan, according to Fefferman. In contrast with the West, most deprogrammers in Japan have been Christian religious ministers.
The families calling them for assistance are mostly non-Christian, but expect Christian deprogrammers to be able to convince the abducted believers based on their knowledge of the Bible. Another difference is the reluctance of the authorities and police to intervene, since they tend to treat these cases as internal family matters and often refuse to prosecute due to an alleged lack of evidence.