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A photo shows a sign at the Japan headquarters of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, formerly known as the Unification Church in Tokyo on September 7, 2022
The Unification Church is accused of extorting large sums from Japanese followersImage: Yuya Matsuuchi/Jiji Press/dpa/picture alliance

Japan passes funds law amid 'cult-like' church controversy

Nik Martin
December 10, 2022

The Unification Church has been accused of extorting huge donations from followers in return for spiritual salvation. The alleged killer of ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July claimed to be one of the group's victims.


Japan's parliament on Saturday approved a law that bans religious and other organizations from maliciously soliciting donations after a brainwashing controversy surrounding the Unification Church

The legislation was passed almost five months after former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated during an election rally by a man who held a grudge against the church.

What is the new fundraising law?

The new law, approved at this year's closing parliamentary session, bans religious and other groups from using coercion or threats to solicit funds from followers.

Many Unification Church followers claim they were forced to join, left in poverty, or neglected because of their parents' devotion to the group.

Believers, other donors and their families will now be able to seek the return of donations when organizations play on their fears or link their cash to spiritual salvation.

Organizations will also be banned from asking donors to borrow money or sell real estate and other assets.

Although the law doesn't name the Unification Church, its passing follows public pressure after Abe's assassination, which lifted the lid on the group's practices.

But some experts say the new legislation lacks teeth as it doesn't enforce donation limits or offer protection to children of followers or those believed to be brainwashed into making large donations.

Abe funeral turns political for PM Kishida

What is the Unification Church?

Founded in South Korea in 1954 by staunch anti-communist Sun Myung Moon, the church obtained legal status as a religious organization in Japan in 1968.

Since the 1980s, the church, which is often labeled a cult, has faced accusations of devious business and recruitment tactics, including forcing members into making huge donations to Moon, often ruining their finances and families.

A lawyers' group said the church had collected nearly $1 billion from followers since 1987 and generated some 35,000 compensation claims.

Experts say Japanese followers are asked to pay for sins committed by their ancestors during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Education Ministry, which is in charge of religious issues, has formally started an investigation into the church. The probe could lead to its legal status being revoked.

The government is separately investigating questionable adoptions involving hundreds of children among church followers.

The group has acknowledged cases of "excessive" donations but says the problem has since been mitigated for more than a decade and recently pledged further reforms.

In early October, the organization said it would record any donation exceeding 30% of a follower's monthly income, as well as whether the follower had the consent of family members.

Now formally called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, the church's cozy ties with Japan's governing party, the Liberal Democrats, also surfaced after Abe's murder in July.

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said he has no links to the group and has pledged his party will cut all such ties.

Pople gather to mourn Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on September 27, 2022
PM Shinzo Abe's alleged killer says he wanted revenge after donations to the church ruined his familyImage: Pool/Yomiuri Shimbun/AP/picture alliance

Score-settling claim by Abe's alleged murderer

Abe, whose tenure as prime minister ran from 2012 to 2020, was giving an election speech in Nara City on July 8, when a man approached from behind and shot him with a homemade firearm.

The suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, told police his mother made massive donations to the church that had bankrupted his family.

According to social media posts, his mother was persuaded to part with around 100 million yen (€664,000; $700,000).

He also reportedly told investigators that he targeted Abe as he believed the former prime minister had close ties with the church.

With material from The Associated Press.

Edited by: Farah Bahgat

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