Prime Minister Kishida lowers bar for government to seek order to dissolve Unification Church

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a session of the budget committee of the House of Councilors in Tokyo, October 19, 2022. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida lowered the bar for the Unification Church to receive a dissolution order on Wednesday, saying the government could ask a court to review it if it proved that the controversial religious group had violated civil law.

Kishida backtracked on his remarks a day earlier in which he said the government could only seek an order disbanding the church if an investigation determines that it has engaged in acts that violate the law penal.

During a parliamentary session on Wednesday, Kishida said his administration decided on the new interpretation after considering recent court rulings involving the Unification Church and the experiences of those who claim to be victims of the group. .

Kishida further clarified the conditions under which the government could ask a court to issue a dissolution order, but an opposition MP blasted him for his political volte-face, saying it only resulted in nothing.

Since the religious organization went public following the murder of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by the son of a follower, its questionable practices have been exposed. He has been accused of soliciting financially ruinous donations from his members and engaging in ‘spiritual sales’, in which he pressures people to buy jars and other items at high prices. exorbitant using threats.

The ruling Liberal Democrat Party’s links to the Church have also come under scrutiny, and the government said on Monday it would investigate the group on the basis of the ‘right to ask questions’ under the law. on religious societies.

Although the government has not yet spelled out details on how to proceed with the investigation, Kishida stressed that the government will take a “case-by-case” approach in its decision to ask a court to issue an order. of dissolution.

The prime minister also said the government could initiate the process to seek a dissolution order, although criminal cases involving members of the organization are still before the courts.

Kishida had initially been reluctant to launch an investigation into the Unification Church, partly out of fear that it would violate the principle of religious freedom.

Earlier this week, however, Kishida said he had decided to open an investigation into the Unification Church, given that in less than a month the government had received more than 1,700 telephone consultations. followers and others complaining about his conduct.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation and a court ruling, the group – founded by a staunch anti-Communist in South Korea in 1954 – could lose its status as a religious society and be deprived of tax benefits, even if he still be able to operate in Japan.

Abe’s murder in early July at the hands of Tetsuya Yamagami, who claims his mother was exploited by the church which is now known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, drew attention to church practices.

Yamagami says his family was financially ruined after his mother made huge donations, which led him to target Abe because he knew the country’s longest-serving prime minister had ties to the group.

Abe appeared in a video message released at an event hosted by an organization affiliated with the group in 2021.

Jerry B. Hatch