Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday that the government would seek to dissolve the Japan branch of the fringe Unification Church, more than a year after the group’s extensive ties to conservative Japanese politicians were revealed in the wake of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination.
After Mr. Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was killed at a campaign event in Nara, near Kyoto, in July 2022, details emerged that the suspect in the murder, Tetsuya Yamagami, had held a grievance against Mr. Abe for his perceived ties to the Unification Church.
Mr. Yamagami wrote to a blogger who covered the church that his mother, a longtime member, had bankrupted the family by making substantial donations to the group against their wishes.
Lawmakers scurried to contain the political fallout and began to scrutinize the church, which was found to have manipulated members over several decades into handing over large sums of money.
The government had been considering for weeks whether to ask a court to strip the church, founded in South Korea by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and known for its mass weddings, of its official religious status in Japan.
Mr. Kishida told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday that legislators in his conservative Liberal Democratic Party had been cutting ties with the church since Mr. Abe’s death.
In a news conference, Masahito Moriyama, the minister in charge of education, culture, sports, science and technology, said that many of the church’s followers had suffered financial and psychological harm.
“The sect has continuously and over a long period of time restricted the free decision-making of many of its followers,” Mr. Moriyama said. Members would “make donations and purchase goods under conditions that prevented them from making normal decisions, thereby inflicting substantial damage and disturbing peace and tranquillity in life.”
Mr. Moriyama said his ministry would file a request with the Tokyo district court as early as Friday to abolish the church in Japan.
He said the government had tracked 32 court decisions awarding damages totaling 2.2 billion yen (about $14.7 million) to 169 victims of the Unification Church.
In a statement on its website, the church protested the government’s move.
“It’s extremely regrettable that the Japanese government made such an important decision based on unbalanced information from a left-leaning lawyers group that was founded under the objective of destroying our group,” the statement said.
This week, the church submitted a petition to the cultural affairs agency signed by more than 80,000 people who protested the government’s dissolution effort.
After Mr. Abe’s assassination shined a light on the Unification Church’s political activities in Japan, an internal investigation by the Liberal Democratic Party discovered that 180 lawmakers had had some interaction with the church, ranging from giving speeches at its meetings to receiving organized support from it during elections.
The connections angered some in the Japanese public, which began to sympathize with Mr. Yamagami and his family’s plight, seeing in him a symbol of other vulnerable people who had been preyed upon by the church’s requests for donations.
In its statement, the church said that it had operated in Japan since 1964 and was working toward “the dream of realization of world peace.”
“What changed everything was the assassination of Prime Minister Abe in July last year,” the group said. “We haven’t changed from what we were before that. Despite that fact, the environment surrounding our group changed like a roller coaster and we came to realize that we were treated as a monster of definite evil by the media.”
Japanese courts have previously ordered the dissolution of church or cult groups in rare cases. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered the breakup of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that organized a terrorist attack with sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring thousands.
If the Tokyo district court orders the Unification Church to dissolve in Japan, the church will lose its property tax exemption and have to dispose of its assets. The church could appeal to the Supreme Court or take its activities underground.
The church has a presence in scores of countries, though membership figures are hard to estimate.