Japan moves to strip Unification Church of government recognition

The minister said the request would be filed to the Tokyo District Court as early as Friday, once "preparations are complete".

Updated - October 13, 2023 12:05 pm IST

Published - October 13, 2023 02:30 am IST - Tokyo

The logo of of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, formerly known as Unification Church, is seen on the wall of the the building housing its headquarters in Tokyo, on Oct. 12, 2023.

The logo of of Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, formerly known as Unification Church, is seen on the wall of the the building housing its headquarters in Tokyo, on Oct. 12, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

The Japanese government asked a court on Friday to strip official recognition from the Unification Church, the influential sect that has come under the microscope since the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The request to dissolve the church's religious corporation status carries a range of legal repercussions, including the loss of its tax-exempt status, though it will be able to continue its religious practices.

"The education minister requested a dissolution order" at the Tokyo District Court, government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, adding the government would now "fully prepare" for any trials.

The move follows Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's orders last year for a probe into the church after it emerged that Abe's alleged killer was motivated by resentment against the group.

The church has been accused of pressuring its followers into making hefty donations and its members have been blamed for child neglect.

Speaking at a separate press conference, Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi said "a significant number of people were still suffering from problems linked to the Unification Church". He added his ministry would work to help ease their "dire situation".

Only two religious groups in Japan have ever received such an order, including the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo metro.

The case against the Unification Church is expected to be a lengthy one, with the church thought likely to fight back through the court system.

Education Minister Masahito Moriyama revealed plans to ask for the court order on Thursday at a meeting with a panel of religious experts.

Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, the church, whose members are colloquially known as "Moonies", rose to global prominence in the 1970s and '80s.

Japan has since become a key financial hub for the church, which teaches Japanese believers they need to atone for their country's wartime occupation of Korea.

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