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Japan cabinet backs bill tightening religious donation rules

Japan's government has approved a bill tightening the rules on religious donations after scrutiny of fundraising practices by the Unification Church. ©AFP

Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's government on Thursday approved a bill tightening the rules on religious donations after scrutiny of controversial fundraising practices by the Unification Church.

Claims that the church pressures followers to donate huge sums have been discussed in parliament since former prime minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated by a man angered by the sect's alleged practices.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida proposed the bill as his government battles tumbling approval ratings linked in part to anger over links between politicians and the Unification Church.

A justice ministry official confirmed to AFP that the bill was approved by the cabinet on Thursday evening, and it will now be debated by parliament.

The proposed legislation would allow religious believers and their family members to ask for the return of donations and prohibits religious groups from soliciting funds through coercive means, including linking donations to spiritual salvation.

Religious figures could face prison sentences of up to a year or fines if convinced of pressuring followers to donate.

The man accused of murdering Abe reportedly resented the Unification Church over massive donations his mother made that bankrupted the family.

The bill would also allow dependent family members of believers to retract donations made by their relatives.

The church denies pressuring members to make donations.

In October, Kishida ordered a government investigation into the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The probe could lead to a dissolution order, which would cause the church to lose its status as a tax-exempt religious organisation, though it could still continue to operate.

A probe soon after Abe's death found half the ruling party's MPs had ties to the church, and in October the government's minister for economic revitalisation resigned over his link to the sect.

Founded in Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, the church is known for mass weddings of its followers, who are sometimes referred to as Moonies.

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