10/17/2022, 14.00
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Kishida orders an official probe into the Unification Church

by Guido Alberto Casanova

Pressed by public opinion, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida opened an investigation into the huge donations to the religious group that got it caught up in the Abe assassination. Kishida told parliament that a help line for alleged debt-stricken victims received 1,700 calls. The investigation could see the church lose its status as a religious entity and related tax benefits.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced this morning in parliament that the government plans to investigate the Unification Church (now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification), a Christian religious group cited as the motive for the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last 8 July.

The news comes after the government was extremely cautious for weeks out of respect for the right to religious freedom in the face of pressure from public opinion over the huge donations received by the religious group.

The latest polls, however, show a further drop in the government's approval rating, to around 35 per cent, the lowest since the beginning of the Kishida administration.

This loss of support follows the discovery of many links between members of the prime minister’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)  and the Unification Church.

This morning Prime Minister Kishida asked the Minister of Education and Culture to begin an investigation.

"The government has taken seriously the fact that there are a large number of victims as well as poverty and broken families, and they haven’t been provided with adequate relief," Kishida said.

Since the government opened a telephone help line for those who consider themselves victims of the religious group, at least 1,700 calls have been received and most of these concern donations.

According to the government's Consumer Affairs Agency, which met recently, questionable practices are reason enough to recommend an investigation.

In recent weeks, people have reported that the religious group tricked them into buying "spiritual" items forcing entire families into financial ruin, the agency said.

Acting on behalf of victims, a group of lawyers highlighted the number of court decisions going against the Unification Church.

The latter, however, responded to the accusations in recent weeks, denouncing a campaign of hatred and aggression.

In late September, it submitted a 22-page document to the UN Human Rights Committee claiming that religious rights of its members in Japan “were seriously, systematically and blatantly violated" since last July.

What could happen to the Unification Church? At the end of the investigation, if the ministry files a case in court, and the court issues a dissolution order, the religious group would lose its status as a religious entity and the resulting tax benefits.

However, this would not also entail an obligation to dissolve and the religious group could still continue to exist.

Japanese courts have issued dissolution orders against other religious groups twice in the past, but this is the first time ever that the Japanese government has undertaken an investigation.

Thus, despite Kishida's change in strategy, a certain caution is required.

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