SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Thousands of Unification Church followers rallied in South Korea Thursday to protest negative Japanese media coverage of their religion after the suspect in the assassination of the former prime minister Japanese Shinzo Abe blamed the church for his family’s problems.
The protesters, mostly Japanese supporters who settled in South Korea after marrying Korean spouses, insisted that the Japanese reports were being pushed by experts, lawyers and Protestant pastors who oppose the Unification Church. and who blame their church “unfoundedly” for Abe’s death.
They said such media reports and comments have unsettled the church’s Japanese followers, who already face social persecution and fears of being pressured by family members to recant their faith.
There have been cases where followers of the Japanese Unification Church were kidnapped or confined by relatives who were trying to deprogram them from their religion. One extreme case involved a man named Toru Goto, who was confined to a Tokyo apartment for more than 12 years until 2008 when members of his family tried to force him to renounce his faith.
Protesters at the Seoul rally chanted slogans denouncing the situation in Japan as religious repression and waved banners written in both Korean and Japanese that read “Stop the assault on human rights” and “Never forgive the kidnapping and confinement business.” “.
“Right now, all believers in the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification in Japan are exposed to an outdated witch hunt fueled by biased and distorted media reports,” Yamada Taeko said through tears on a stage, using the formal name of the church.
“We call on all media outlets to immediately take a leadership role in ensuring that freedom of religion is properly protected in my beloved homeland, Japan,” he said.
The Unification Church says there are about 10,000 Japanese-born followers currently living in South Korea after marrying Korean spouses. Thursday’s protest was expected to draw some 4,000 people.
The church’s supporters in Japan and their deep ties to the country’s conservative politicians have become a subject of intense media coverage since Abe’s July 8 assassination.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly attacked the former prime minister for his alleged ties to the Unification Church, which the man hated because he believed his mother’s massive donations to the church ruined his family.
Abe, in a video message to the church-affiliated Foundation for Universal Peace in September 2021, praised his work for peace on the Korean peninsula and his focus on family values. Some experts say Abe’s video appearance may have motivated his attacker.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reshuffled his cabinet last week in an apparent attempt to distance his administration from the Unification Church over its ties to Abe and senior members of the ruling party. Seven ministers were sacked, including Abe’s younger brother, former Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, who admitted that church supporters volunteered in past election campaigns.
The South Korean church, known for its mass weddings and its late founder who called himself a messiah, has forged close ties with many conservative Japanese lawmakers. They include members of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan almost continuously since its inception in 1955.
The church was founded in Seoul in 1954 by the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon, whose staunch anti-communism garnered strong backing from right-wing Japanese politicians, including Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was also prime minister.
Church fundraising was especially aggressive in Japan, critics say, because Moon taught his followers that they needed to give more money to atone for the sins committed by their ancestors who colonized the Korean peninsula, which was controlled by Tokyo from 1910 to 1945.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION