There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
While the number of reported “deprogramming” cases involving Unification Church (UC) members has declined sharply since the 1990s, the NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers International stated that abductions and deprogramming of UC members continued to occur. The UC reported three cases in which church members were abducted. UC members visited the homes of the members’ family after members went “missing” and contacted police. All three individuals later resurfaced and sent communications to the UC withdrawing from the church.
The UC asserted that certain universities unfairly targeted the organization in “cult prevention” workshops that aimed to caution students about joining such groups. UC representatives noted, however, that universities did not refer to the UC by name in these workshops, possibly due to a series of suits brought against academic institutions throughout the country by the UC. The organization’s representatives also responded to criticism of surreptitious recruitment by noting that the church stopped hiding its name during recruitment activities in 1992, although this could not be independently confirmed.
The UC brought a case to arbitration against Chiba University in January after a professor and university administrator questioned 10 students regarding their faith and asked them to leave a student group affiliated with the UC. The UC was awarded damages and the professor resigned her post in April.
The National Police Agency (NPA) said that it monitored the UC for possible criminal activities, citing arrests in the past for violations of laws governing sales techniques including telemarketing and multilevel marketing, as well as laws governing the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals. Police also reported isolated cases of trespassing and stalking, and stated that they monitored for possible coerced donations. A former UC member brought a civil suit against the church seeking the return of 32.5 million yen ($309,494) in allegedly forced donations.
While society was generally supportive of the right of Falun Gong practitioners to practice freely, the Chinese embassy in Tokyo reportedly carried out a campaign to persuade Japanese organizations to discriminate against Falun Gong practitioners. Falun Gong members also asserted that major newspapers inflated costs for advertising Falun Gong activities, or failed to apply a standard advertising discount.
Significant interfaith efforts continued during the year. The Japanese Association of Religious Organizations, an interfaith NGO, promoted religious culture and interfaith harmony. It sponsored the 40th National Interreligious Consultation for Peace in September, bringing together over 100 officers and supporting members of Religions for Peace Japan, the national branch of a worldwide coalition of representatives from world religions dedicated to promoting peace. The event stressed the need for interfaith dialogue and highlighted beliefs shared by different faiths. Members of the Islamic Center continued to speak at churches and participated in interfaith peace prayers with Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist groups.