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Japan lawyers' group requests court order to dissolve Unification Church

Members of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales are seen during a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Oct. 11, 2022, after they sent a request to the justice and education ministers and the prosecutor-general over a court order against the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

TOKYO -- A lawyers' group in Japan supporting former followers of the Unification Church has requested that the justice and education ministers, as well as the prosecutor-general, demand that a court order the religious group to dissolve.

    The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales posted the requests by mail on Oct. 11. The attorneys' group told a news conference in Tokyo later that day that the Unification Church's numerous organized illegal acts, including coerced donations, have been recognized in civil lawsuits. They added that while the Agency for Cultural Affairs remains reluctant to request a court order, it is technically possible.

    The Cultural Affairs Agency has indicated that a court order to dissolve the controversial religious group, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, is "difficult" at this time, citing precedents in which such court orders were issued because of Penal Code violations and other acts committed by an organization's representative directors.

    Yasuo Kawai, secretary-general of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, told the news conference, "The church is infringing on its followers' property rights and freedom of religion. There are many legal precedents and cases that ended in settlements showing the illegality of coerced donations," arguing that these could serve as the basis for demanding a court order.

    He also revealed that in civil suits against the church, at least in cases where courts handed down rulings, the religious group had been ordered to pay a total of over 1.5 billion yen (roughly $10.3 million) in compensation. In cases that ended in settlements, meanwhile, the amount of compensation from the church had reached 11.4 billion yen ($78 million) in total.

    "If the church doesn't break up, it will continue to benefit from tax relief under the Religious Corporations Act," Kawai said.

    The Unification Church announced its reform plan in September, under which, the church said, it'll make sure followers do not make excessive donations that would strain their livelihoods.

    (Japanese original by Shota Harumashi, Tokyo City News Department)

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