Cult targeted students at top universities

The Asahi Shimbun/August 9, 2006

A cult that originated in South Korea and is led by international fugitive Jung Myung Seok actively recruited new members from some of Japan's most prestigious universities, internal documents show.

In its membership drive this past spring, Setsuri (providence) followers drew up personality profiles of freshmen students and used the information to lure them into the cult.

Existing members set up student groups for a range of activities in an effort to create trust with newcomers before trying to bring them under the cult's influence.

Setsuri was founded by Jung, 61, after he bolted from the Unification Church headed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The former Moonie fled South Korea in 1999 after being accused of raping a number of female followers. He is currently on Interpol's wanted list.

The cult is also active in Taiwan, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Internal documents dated early April explain how cult members solicited recruits at Japan's leading academic institutions, among them the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, University of Tsukuba, Waseda University and Nihon University.

In what amounts to a policy statement, one document said "it is difficult to engage in missionary activities in Japan by bringing up religious topics from first contact" because of the public outrage over the Aum Shinrikyo cult's sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 that left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.

The documents described the University of Tokyo as "the country's top institution of education that produces leaders in political, economic, scientific and other fields."

According to the documents, the cult began recruiting students there in 1991. The records show that Setsuri managed to recruit about 50 students from the university.

As for the students themselves, the documents described them as "elite" and said many had "high hopes of changing society."

Following instructions from Jung, cult members set up a student group early this year to discuss current affairs. In reality, the group was a recruitment center for the cult.

Cult members, who were former students of the university and are now high-wage earners, gave lectures for the group that solicited many new disciples.

The documents noted that Jung contacted members by phone in summer 2005 to offer words of encouragement.

His call prompted cult members to go about their missionary activities with more zeal, according to the documents, which said the guru visited the campus of Kyoto University in December 2001.

Jung spent about 30 minutes walking around the campus with his followers, during which time a student leader confided to the guru that the university's new intake were uncompromising.

"That's better," Jung was quoted as saying. "Even though it may take time, they will become devoted followers with unwavering hearts."

The University of Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture was the first foothold for the cult when it actively started its recruitment drive in Japan about 20 years ago.

A South Korean woman who is a close aide of Jung's once studied there, and the guru himself visited the campus in 1994.

The documents described that Tsukuba students are "innocent," since many come from areas outside large urban centers.

Cult members "connected" with about 100 freshmen there, by helping them move into dormitories at the start of the school year and other activities, the documents show.

Cult membership among students at Tokyo's Waseda University doubled in the late 1990s, and at least 15 students are currently believed to be members of the cult.

"(Students at Waseda) are dying for love but cannot depend on others," a member in charge of soliciting new followers was quoted as saying. "They seem determined to remain unchanged once they make up their mind. I am sure there will be members who will support the guru in political, economic and other fields."

Officials at the universities mentioned in the cult documents were startled by the contents.

"We never imagined that our school had been targeted to such a degree," said an official in charge of student affairs at Kyoto University.

Officials at the University of Tsukuba and Nihon University were perplexed at the turn of events, noting that there is no way to confirm which students decided to join the cult.

Officials from the University of Tokyo and Waseda University declined to offer any comment.

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