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Tuesday, February 21, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Church founder sentenced to 20 years for raping, abusing girls

KYOTO JAPAN -- A church founder accused of 22 counts of rape and sexual assault against seven girls was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by the Kyoto District Court on Tuesday.

Handed the prison sentence was Tamotsu Kin, 62, founder of the Seishin Chuo Kyokai church in Yawata, Kyoto Prefecture.

"He abused his position as a pastor, which is looked on with awe and reverence as someone close to God, and habitually committed the crimes," Presiding Judge Takeshi Uegaki said. "His actions were extremely malicious, to a level unparalleled by other sex crimes."

Kin was convicted of sexually violating seven girls aged between 12 and 16 in his pastor's office and other locations between March 2001 and September 2004. He faced charges for 22 attacks, including one attempted sexual assault.

On a regular basis, Kin preached that followers would "suffer in hell" if they resisted him, creating a situation in which his victims couldn't resist him, the court said.

Prosecutors said the charges they had laid against Kin were "the tip of the iceberg."

"He left the victims with scars that are difficult to heal," a representative of the prosecution team said. "In the public hearings, the defendant merely said he would not argue against the charges, and didn't divulge the truth. He has not offered the slightest apology."

During the trial, the victims presented statements, including one that said, "Not only has he failed to apologize, but his statements in the public hearings have been nothing but lies."

A group to support the victims has offered counseling, while the Kyoto Prefectural Government set up a project team using child consultation centers and clinical psychologists to care for the girls. A representative of the group that supports them said they are likely to need long-term care.

The victims have launched a damages suit in the Kyoto District Court against Kin and the church. The church has acknowledged that five of the girls were abused, but is arguing that is bears no legal responsibility and is not required to pay compensation.