31 August 2022

Japan’s PM Fumio Kishida says ruling party will cut ties with Unification Church

31 August 2022

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says his ruling party will cut ties with the Unification Church following a widening scandal triggered by former leader Shinzo Abe’s assassination last month.

Widespread cosy ties between members of Mr Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), many of them belonging to Mr Abe’s faction, and the South Korean-born church have surfaced since Mr Abe was fatally shot while giving a campaign speech in July.

The suspect arrested at the scene allegedly told police he killed Mr Abe because of his apparent link to the church. In a letter seen by The Associated Press and social media posts believed to be his, the suspected gunman said he believed his mother’s large donations to the church had ruined his life.

Japan’s ruling party will cut ties with the Unification Church following a widening scandal trigged by former leader Shinzo Abe’s assassination last month (Shuji Kajiyama/AP) (AP)

Some Japanese have expressed understanding, even sympathy, as details of the man’s life emerged, creating deep implications for the political party that has governed Japan virtually uninterrupted since the Second World War.

While religious groups must abide by law, “politicians are strictly required to be careful about groups with social problems”, Mr Kishida said.

Members of his Cabinet and other key posts have agreed to review their past links and cut ties with the church.

“As president of the LDP, I honestly express my apology” for causing the public’s doubts and concerns over the continuing revelations in media reports about the party’s extensive ties to the church, Mr Kishida added.

The Unification Church, which was founded in South Korea in 1954 and came to Japan a decade later, has built close ties with a host of conservative lawmakers on their shared interests of opposing communism.

Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead last month (Eugene Hoshiko/AP) (AP)

Mr Abe’s grandfather and former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi was a key figure who helped found the church’s political unit in Tokyo in 1968.

Since the 1980s, the church has faced accusations of problematic recruiting, sales of religious items and donations, which often led to financial strains on the followers’ families and, according to experts, the mental health of adherents’ children. The issue has led to the governing party’s decision to cut ties with the church.

Mr Abe sent a video message last year to the Universal Peace Federation, an international group affiliated with the church, which experts say may have motivated the suspect in his shooting. Mr Abe had praised the federation’s co-founder Hak Ja Han Moon, who is also head of the church, for her effort in promoting traditional family values.

Experts and cult watchers also say that the church has promoted its key agendas, such as the opposition to women’s advancement and same-sex marriage, to influence policy.

Mr Kishida shuffled his cabinet earlier in August to purge seven ministers linked to the groups. Among them was Mr Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi, who acknowledged that church followers volunteered on his election campaigns. Dozens of LDP members have since acknowledged their ties to the church and related organisations.

A protest in Tokyo against the state paying for the former prime minister’s funeral (Eugene Hoshiko/AP) (AP)

He said at the news conference that he has instructed LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi to survey the party fully and compile compliance measures. Mr Kishida said he is rushing the effort but it may take time because the review will span decades.

Mr Kishida apologised over the loss of public trust in politics because of the scandal and his lack of explanation for hosting a state funeral for Mr Abe, one of most divisive leaders in Japan’s post-war history.

The decision to hold a state funeral on September 27 has split public opinion.

The only other state funeral held in post-war Japan was for former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the San Francisco Treaty that restored ties with the Allies and brought about the end of the US occupation.

Mr Kishida’s cabinet last week allocated at least a 250 million yen (£1.5 million) budget to invite about 6,000 guests for the funeral to be held at the Budokan arena in Tokyo.

The decision to hold a state funeral for Mr Abe has split public opinion (Eugene Hoshiko/AP) (AP)

Mr Kishida insisted that Mr Abe deserved a state funeral because of his achievement in raising Japan’s global profile as its longest-serving post-war leader. He said Japan must respond with courtesy to “outpouring of condolences” from foreign leaders and legislations.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament area later on Wednesday to protest against plans for the state funeral.

Holding signs and banners with messages including “No to state funeral”, “Don’t force us to mourn” and “Abe politics destroys Japan”, the participants also said they refused to have their tax money spent on condolences for Mr Abe.

“I was so shocked how deeply the Unification Church has been involved in Japanese politics. This is very dangerous,” protester Yosuke Inai said.

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