Following the murder of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, members of the Unification Church in Japan and their families have experienced intimidation and threats of death, the organization's Japanese branch reported on Wednesday (Aug 10).
According to authorities, the individual who is accused of shooting Abe a month ago had a vendetta against a "certain group" he thought the politician was associated with.
The Unification Church, which has its headquarters in South Korea, was instantly identified by local media, which said that the suspect's mother had donated 100 million yen (about $1 million at the time) to the organization before becoming bankrupt.
"Unverified information that (the suspect's) motive was linked to donations made by his mother, our member, as well as excessive media coverage of our organization have prompted members to come forward with numerous reports of harm," Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the church in Japan said.
He told reporters in Tokyo that some of his followers were forced to quit their jobs or had children who couldn't go to school due to bullying. "Our churches in Japan have been subject to death threats, receiving threatening phone calls saying 'we will kill you'," Tanaka said.
The church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, was established by Sun Myung Moon in Korea in 1954; its followers are referred to as "Moonies" in casual conversation. The beliefs of the Unification Church are based on Moon's book Divine Principle, which differs from the teachings of Nicene Christianity in its view of Jesus, and in its introduction of the concept of "indemnity". The movement is well known for its unique "Blessing" or mass wedding ceremonies.
The public has been closely scrutinizing the church's connections to Japanese lawmakers after Abe's murder. They include Nobuo Kishi, Abe's brother, who was demoted from his position as defense minister on Wednesday. After admitting that churchgoers had volunteered for his campaign, he promised to "thoroughly review" his relationships with the Unification Church.
Tanaka recognized that the two groups have common goals in terms of their hostility to communism, but he denied that his federation had ever specifically backed the LDP. "From that perspective, it can be said it is likely that there have been more points of encounter between us and LDP lawmakers," he said.
Years of the scandal surrounding the church have reportedly flared up again in the wake of the murder, including claims that some of its members went bankrupt after giving the organization devastating gifts. The church has made concerted measures to ensure that donations are not made which would be large in relation to a person's holdings, according to Tanaka.