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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence on Aug. 28, 2020, in Tokyo.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference at the prime minister’s official residence on Aug. 28, 2020, in Tokyo. (Franck Robichon/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — The assassination of Shinzo Abe has drawn attention to a fringe political party that had criticized him ahead of Sunday’s upper house election for alleged connections to religious groups.

Social-media users have highlighted comments by Akihiko Kurokawa, secretary-general of the NHK Party, alleging during a campaign debate last month that Abe was to blame for obscure funding of religious groups in Japan allegedly used as a front for “foreign spy activities.”

While there are no direct connections between the suspected shooter and the NHK Party, which was formed in 2013 with the aim of abolishing compulsory fees used to fund Japan’s national public broadcaster, the politician’s comments highlight a strain of politics that may shed light on the killer’s motives. Some of the allegations are reminiscent of the conspiracies spread by QAnon, which has gained traction in Japan.

Tetsuya Yamagami, the suspect in Abe’s assassination, told police that he had initially planned to attack the leader of a religious group he believed caused his mother to become bankrupt after she donated large sums of money, Kyodo reported. He also held a grudge against Abe, alleging to police that the former prime minister had promoted the religious group in Japan, the report said. It added that he denied a political motive for the shooting.

Kurokawa and NHK Party leader Takashi Tachibana condemned the attack on Abe in a news briefing on Friday. In a statement on the NHK Party website, Tachibana said he was “greatly shocked” at the shooting while also criticizing the policies of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.

“While deflation has turned to inflation, the ruling parties have not raised the level of pensions and social security that they cut in the times of deflation,” Tachibana said. “Of course violence cannot be tolerated in a debate over policy, but we cannot overlook the possibility one factor is that people who are struggling to make a living and some of the people of this country have been placed in a desperate situation by these delays in policy.”

Attempts to speak to Kurokawa on Saturday were unsuccessful. A representative for the NHK Party referred questions about him to the Tsubasa no To party, which also lists Kurokawa as a leader. Calls to a landline listed on the party’s website went unanswered.

The Tsubasa no To party doesn’t have a nationwide presence, but two members are city assembly members in different suburbs of Tokyo. Its website lists policies including abolishing sales tax and anti-globalism measures. The site also has several videos, one of them featuring a picture of Abe entitled “Jewish drug money, Eisenberg and the Abe and Aso families.”

While the NHK Party is small, regulations on broadcasting fairness ensure the party is allotted airtime during the campaign. Groups that gain 2% or more of the vote in the proportional representation section of an election are recognized as political parties.

Last month, Kurokawa told a discussion program broadcast by NHK that Japan was suffering a “silent invasion” of religious groups flush with foreign money. Even as the moderator urged him to stick to the discussion topic of constitutional change, Kurokawa ended his remarks with a song that began with the words: “It’s Abe’s fault, it’s Abe’s fault that Japan has become like this.”

Kurokawa had also accused Abe’s grandfather, former premier Nobusuke Kishi, of bringing the South Korean-founded Unification Church, known for its mass weddings, to Japan. And he referred to close links between Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization that backs junior ruling coalition party Komeito, and the Chinese Communist Party.

The NHK Party’s website contains no reference to the allegations against Abe, and instead focuses on criticisms of the public broadcaster’s coverage and funding.

Last September, the Japanese Communist Party newspaper Akahata reported that Abe had sent a congratulatory video message to a gathering of a group related to the Unification Church.

Tachibana, himself a former employee of NHK, was elected to the upper house of parliament in 2019, but resigned a month later and handed his seat to an associate. In January this year, he received a suspended sentence for threats to leak NHK subscriber data online, the Mainichi newspaper said.

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