Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has ordered an investigation into the controversial Unification Church in an apparent attempt to quell public outrage over his party’s ties to it.
- Fumio Kishida has already promised that his party will cut all ties with the Unification Church
- A survey last month found nearly half of ruling party politicians were linked to the controversial group
- Since the 1980s, the church has been accused of underhanded business and recruiting tactics, including brainwashing.
The church’s ties to several elected officials have come to light following the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Mr Abe was shot during an outdoor campaign speech in July.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Mr Abe because of his apparent connection to the religious group.
A letter and social media posts attributed to Yamagami said her mother’s large donations to the church had bankrupted her family and ruined her life.
Mr Kishida said a government hotline set up to receive church-related complaints and inquiries resulted in more than 1,700 cases which were handled by police and experts legal.
“Many victims are facing financial hardship and their families have been destroyed, but the government has been unable to provide adequate support and I take it seriously,” Kishida said.
He also pledged to do more to support alleged victims, including a possible review of consumer contract law to prevent future problems.
Multiple charges laid
The Unification Church, founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, gained religious organization status in Japan in 1968 as part of an anti-communist movement backed by Mr Abe’s grandfather and former prime minister, Nobusuke Kishi.
Since the 1980s, the church has been accused of underhanded business and recruiting tactics, including brainwashing members into paying huge portions of their salaries to Moon.
The church has already recognized cases of “excessive” donations.
He said the problems have eased since he passed stricter compliance in 2009 and recently promised further reforms.
A government panel submitted a report this week that revealed numerous financial problems and lawsuits stemming from the church’s methods.
The report called for an investigation while considering revoking the church’s legal status, although officials were seen as reluctant to go that far.
Mr Kishida told a parliamentary committee meeting that he had instructed Education and Culture Minister Keiko Nagaoka, primarily responsible for overseeing religious groups, to prepare an investigation into the church under the Religious Societies Act.
The police investigation into Mr Abe’s murder has revealed extensive links between the South Korea-based church and members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including Abe, over their shared interests in conservative causes .
The case also brought to light the suffering of adherents’ children, some of whom have come out and said they were forced to join the church and left in poverty or neglect due to the devotion of their parents.
Many critics viewed the church as a cult due to problems with worshipers and their families due to their financial and mental hardships.
An LDP survey in September found nearly half of its politicians had church ties, including ministers.
Mr. Kishida has pledged to sever all such ties, but many Japanese want an additional explanation of how the church may have influenced party policies.
Mr Kishida has been criticized and his government’s support ratings have plunged over his handling of controversy and holding a state funeral for Abe, one of Japan’s most controversial leaders, who is now seen as a key link between the ruling party and the church.
Culture Minister Keiko Nagaoka said she would set up a group of legal and religious experts next week to discuss a rare investigation into a religious group.
Members of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Selling, which monitors the church, submitted a request last week to the Ministries of Culture and Justice and the Attorney General to issue a dissolution order to the church.
The church acknowledged that Yamagami’s mother had donated more than 100 million yen (A$1.07 million), including life insurance and real estate, to the group.
He said he later returned about half at the request of the suspect’s uncle.
Experts say Japanese worshipers are being asked to pay for their ancestral sins committed during their colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, and that 70% of the church’s funding comes from Japan.