Concerns raised about cult led by fugitive

The Asahi Shimbun, Japan/July 28, 2006

Churches, lawyers and families are planning to take action against an expanding cult led by a former Moonie who is on Interpol's international wanted list for sexually abusing female followers.

About 2,000 Japanese have joined the cult called "Setsuri (providence)," and membership here continues to grow, they said.

The cult was established by Jung Myung Seok, 61, in South Korea around 1980, and has been active in Japan for at least 15 years.

Members are forced to live with other members and participate in mass wedding ceremonies, the sources said.

Former followers and others say the cult also engages in brainwashing and secrecy, while Jung rampantly sexually abuses female members.

"We are considering filing criminal complaints against the guru and his aides so that there won't be any more victims," said Hiroshi Watanabe, a lawyer familiar with the cult. "It will be too late if we don't take countermeasures now."

According to Setsuri's internal documents and other information, most of the Japanese followers are current and former students of major national and private universities. About 60 percent of the followers are women.

The cult has about 40 footholds across Japan, including major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo.

Jung was part of the Unification Chruch led by Sun Myung Moon in South Korea in the 1970s before he established his own cult, which was initially known as the Jesus Morning Star church.

Accusations that Jung was sexually abusing his followers became a huge issue in South Korea. He fled the country in 1999 before he could be prosecuted.

South Korea still wants to arrest him. He was placed on Interpol's wanted list in 2002, but remains at large.

After he became a fugitive, Jung reportedly moved from one area to another, including Italy, China and Taiwan, and secretly gave instructions to his aides.

According to former cult members, Jung frequently visited Japan until 2002.

He stayed at his aides' homes in Osaka and Chiba prefectures, where he summoned up to 10 female followers almost every day and indecently assaulted them under the pretext of "health checks," they said.

Some Japanese female followers were instructed to go overseas for a rendezvous with Jung, they said.

The aides told them to never mention the meetings with Jung, warning that they would go to hell if they revealed the secret.

Many followers left the cult after they realized what was going on.

"I couldn't understand what was happening to me while I was being sexually assaulted," one of the former followers was quoted as saying. "I was so messed up in the head, and couldn't resist whatever the guru did."

Another former female follower said, "Well over 100 Japanese women had been victimized" during the cult's 15 years in Japan.

Setsuri members generally live together in the same room of a housing complex that is used as their base in the area.

Members are not allowed to be romantically involved with each other, but they must attend a mass wedding ceremony once a year, similar to the practice of the Unification Church.

Setsuri members are required to pay a fixed donation, part of which is believed to finance Jung's flight from the law.

Cultists try to recruit students and others through sports, cultural and other club activities. They use mind control to get recruits to believe in Setsuri's religious principles.

"It is a typical example of a cult that changes one's thinking and destroys his or her personality on a systematic scale," an official at the Unified Church of Christ in Japan said.

The church, lawyers and others said they have received at least 200 calls from parents desperately wanting to get their children back from Setsuri.

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