TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday his ruling party will cut ties with the Unification Church following a widening scandal triggered by former leader Shinzo Abe’s assassination last month, and apologized for causing the loss of public trust in politics.
Widespread cozy ties between members of Kishida’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, many of them belonging to Abe’s faction, and the South Korean-born church have surfaced since Abe was shot to death while giving a campaign speech in July.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagani, who was arrested at the scene, allegedly told police he killed Abe because of his apparent link to the church. In a letter seen by The Associated Press and social media posts believed to be his, Yamagani said he believed his mother’s large donations to the church had ruined his life.
Some Japanese have expressed understanding, even sympathy, as details of the man’s life emerged, creating deep implications for the political party that has governed Japan virtually uninterrupted since World War II.
While religious groups must abide by law, “politicians are strictly required to be careful about groups with social problems,” Kishida said. Members of his Cabinet and other key posts have agreed to review their past links and cut ties with the church.
“As president of the LDP, I honestly express my apology” for causing the public’s doubts and concerns over the continuing revelations in media reports about the party’s extensive ties to the church, Kishida said.
The Unification Church, which was founded in South Korea in 1954 and came to Japan a decade later, has built close ties with a host of conservative lawmakers over their shared interests of opposing communism. Abe’s grandfather and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi was a key figure who helped found the church’s political unit in Tokyo in 1968.
Since the 1980s, the church has faced accusations of problematic recruiting, sales of religious items and donations, which often lead to financial strains on the followers’ families and, according to experts, mental health of adherents’ children. The issues has led to the governing party’s decision to cut ties with the church.
Abe sent a video message last year to the Universal Peace Federation, an international group affiliated with the church, which experts say may have motivated the suspect in Abe’s shooting. Abe had praised the federation’s co-founder Hak Ja Han Moon, who is also head of the church, for her effort in promoting traditional family values.
Experts and cult watchers also say that the church has promoted its key agendas such as the opposition to women’s advancement and same-sex marriage to influence policy.
Kishida shuffled his Cabinet earlier in August to purge seven ministers linked to the church. Among them was Abe’s younger brother Nobuo Kishi, who acknowledged that church followers volunteered in his election campaign. Dozens of LDP members have since come forward with their ties to the church and related organizations.
Kishida said at the news conference that he has instructed LDP Secretary General Toshimitsu Motegi to survey the party fully over any other members’ ties to the church. Kishida said he is rushing the effort but it has taken time because the review will span decades.
Kishida apologized for the loss of public trust because of the scandal and his lack of explanation for organizing a state funeral for Abe, one of most divisive leaders in Japan’s postwar history.
The state funeral scheduled for Sept. 27 has split public opinion. The only other state funeral in postwar Japan was for former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, who signed the San Francisco Treaty that restored ties with the Allies and ended the U.S. occupation of Japan.
Kishida’s Cabinet last week allocated at least a 250 million yen ($1.8 million) budget to invite about 6,000 guests for the funeral at the Budokan arena in Tokyo.
Kishida insisted that Abe deserved a state funeral because of his achievement in raising Japan’s global profile as its longest-serving postwar leader. He said Japan must respond with courtesy to “outpouring of condolences” from foreign leaders and legislations.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the parliament area later Wednesday to protest plans for the state funeral. Holding signs and banners with messages “No to state funeral,” “Don’t force us to mourn,” and “Abe politics destroys Japan,” the participants chanted slogans and raised their arms.
The protesters said they refuse to have their tax money spent on condolences for Abe.
“I was so shocked how deeply the Unification Church has been involved in Japanese politics. This is very dangerous,” said Yosuke Inai, a retiree who joined the rally.
Chie Sakuma, an office worker, said that if the government had money to spend on the funeral, they should “spend it on something else,” noting widening poverty that includes children.
Severing ties with the church “is a serious decision for the party,” Motegi said earlier Wednesday, warning of a possible membership expulsion for those who fail to follow the rule. Results of the party review are expected Friday, when the names of those who have accepted donations or help in election campaigns from the church or related groups will be disclosed.
Kenta Izumi of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan criticized the governing party’s probe as lax because it does not cover LDP lawmakers in local assemblies, where they are said to have even closer church ties.
Associated Press video journalist Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.
Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges
LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.
Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”
Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.
Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.
The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.
If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.
The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.
Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.
Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.
Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”
Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.
Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.
Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.
Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.
She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.
Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.
Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”
Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.
“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.
Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.
Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.
The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.
A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.
Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.
Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.
Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.
Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.
The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.
“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.
Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.
The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.
The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.
For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.
Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.
In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.
Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.
The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.
Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health
WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.
The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.
The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.
“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”
President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”
In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.
The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.
The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.