The Tokyo District Court held the first hearing Thursday on the government's request to issue an order to dissolve the controversial Unification Church over its aggressive donation solicitation practices.

The behind-closed-doors session on the request made in October came after a months-long probe into its activities, including claims it systematically and repeatedly solicited financially ruinous donations from followers.

Questions also exist over ties between Japanese politicians and the South Korean religious group and its Japanese affiliate. There have been revelations about connections between many ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and the group, with some ministers reportedly having received support during election campaigns.

Nobuya Fukumoto (L), a lawyer for the Unification Church, speaks to reporters in Tokyo on Feb. 22, 2024. (Kyodo)

Representatives of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the church attended the hearing that lasted for about an hour. The ministry's remit includes religious affairs.

The probe into the organization and testimony from victims and their family members led the government to conclude the church deviated significantly from the aims of a religious organization.

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Unification Church's Japan branch, told the session that the ministry's view of the organization is mistaken, according to people who attended the hearing.

As part of its defense, the church maintains that because ministry interviewees appear to have been introduced to them by a group of lawyers committed to helping church victims, their reliability should be approached with caution.

The dispute has been muddied by education minister Masahito Moriyama's admission in early February that he signed a document pledging support for issues championed by the church in the run-up to October 2021's general election.

The Unification Church has been under renewed scrutiny since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot in the street during a July 2022 election campaign stop by Tetsuya Yamagami, who claimed he targeted Abe over his perceived links to the religious organization.

Yamagami told the police his mother's vast donations to the church brought financial ruin to his family.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea by a staunch anti-communist in 1954.

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