Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
by Shigeyoshi Kimura (Associated Press, February 29, 2000)
TOKYO (AP) - A company linked to the cult accused of a deadly nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subways built computer systems for Japan's Defense Agency and other ministries, officials said today.
The company, affiliated with Aum Shinri Kyo, was subcontracted by firms that received an order from the Defense Agency to create a communication network that included a system to block hackers, said agency spokesman Mutsuharu Abe.
Kyodo News Agency reported that police suspect the company tried to plant a device in the system that would instead make breaking into the agency's computers easier.
Abe was unable to confirm that. But he said the agency has suspended implementation of the communication network designed for the Ground Self-Defense Forces because of the cult's involvement.
Abe said police informed the agency that the Aum-affiliated company built part of the network today, a day before it was scheduled to go into operation.
Police said the Aum-linked company also created software systems for the Construction Ministry, the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry and the Education Ministry as well as NTT, Japan's largest telecoms company.
Kyodo News said the Aum-related company, whose name was not released, also created software for dozens of major companies.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki criticized the ministries for neglecting to conduct stricter checks.
``We are surprised,'' Aoki was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. ``We believe that the ministries should check who their suppliers are and that the suppliers should check where the products are made.''
The discovery follows several hacker attacks on Japanese government Web sites that raised alarm about lax security in government computer systems.
Officials discovered Aum's involvement in building the software systems in raids on cult facilities under a new law intended to crack down on the group, said a police spokesman, who requested anonymity.
In their raids, police confiscated information on thousands of officials at Japanese corporations and suspect Aum intended to use its business operations to steal government and corporate data, Kyodo said.
Computer-related businesses have been one of the cult's biggest sources of revenue since most of its leaders were arrested following the 1995 sarin gas attack that killed 12 people and sickened thousands. Former Aum guru Shoko Asahara is on trial for allegedly masterminding the attack.
The group, which recently changed its name to Aleph, is still believed to have more than 2,000 followers.
(Reuters, February 29, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Japan's Defence Agency said on Tuesday it believed the doomsday cult accused of a fatal 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway system may have been involved in the installation of its new computer system.
An agency official said it was told by the manufacturer of the system that a member of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) cult may have been part of a group of people who installed it.
The system, which would have been used in communication between the Defence Agency's computer system and outside networks, was due to go online on Wednesday. But this has been postponed indefinitely pending checks, the official added.
He emphasised the agency was unaware of the possible link to Aum and that it had made no direct contract with the cult.
Aum, whose computer business has been a major source of its income, may even have been involved in developing the computer software used by a number of government ministries and major companies, NHK television said.
It said a computer software company linked to Aum may have provided systems to the Construction, Education and Posts and Telecommunications ministries and firms such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT).
Computer experts said this could theoretically have given the software developer a back door into the networks as long as they were connected to the outside world via the Internet.
A spokeswoman at NTT declined to confirm the NHK report, saying the issue was under investigation and the developer of the software product had not yet been verified.
She added that there was no way the cult would have been able to gain access to NTT records.
Japan's computer security came under scrutiny earlier this month following a series of hacker raids on government computer systems.
The transactions, which could include as many as 100 systems, were listed in documents found in a police raid conducted on the company on Tuesday as part of a raid on eight Aum facilities.
Because the Aum-linked company may have acted as a subcontractor to the ministries' regular supplier, they would have been unaware of the possible Aum connection.
Aum has been under government surveillance since the beginning of this month and has had its facilities repeatedly searched by police.
Prompted by fears the cult was making a comeback, Japan's parliament passed strict new laws in December enabling authorities to put the cult under surveillance for three years, through inspecting its sites and obliging the group to submit details of its members and assets to the authorities.
The laws do not specify Aum by name but target the activities of any group that has engaged in ``indiscriminate mass murder'' in the past 10 years. In the 1995 nerve gas attack on the capital's subway system, 12 were killed and thousands injured.
Aum has responded to the growing hostility by saying it has implemented reforms, such as changing its name, and is now a benign religious group.
Aum preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for various calamities.
(Kyodo News Service, February 29, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 29 (Kyodo) - A computer software company in Tokyo linked to the AUM Shinrikyo cult developed systems for government ministries and major companies, police officials revealed Tuesday.
The company provided systems to more than 90 entities, including the Defense Agency, Construction Ministry, Education Ministry and the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry, the officials said.
The police found out about the transactions in documents obtained after searching the company's offices in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward on Tuesday, the officials said.
Among the systems the company provided to the Defense Agency is one that included a ''firewall'' function, which serves to prevent invasion of a computer system. The police suspect the company developed a device in the ''firewall'' that would enable outsiders to invade the agency's system, the officials said.
The company had developed a total of about 100 systems. Those who ordered from the firm include the Adachi Ward Office and the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., the officials said.
Government officials said the ministries did not realize they were ordering systems from an AUM-linked company because it acted as a subcontractor to their suppliers.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said he was surprised by the report, adding both the ministries and their suppliers should always check where their products come from.
''We are surprised. We believe that the ministries should check who their suppliers are, and that the suppliers should check where the products are made,'' the top government spokesman said at a regular news conference.
The documents in question were found during a raid on eight facilities linked to AUM on Tuesday. Police searched the facilities on suspicion that an AUM follower lied in a contract he made with a real estate agency when he rented an apartment in Arakawa Ward.
AUM now calls itself Aleph.
(Kyodo News Service, February 29, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 29 (Kyodo) - Police searched eight facilities related to the AUM Shinrikyo cult Tuesday on suspicion that an AUM follower lied in a contract he made with a real estate agency when he rented an apartment in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward.
The facilities raided include a computer software development company in the ward and the cult's Yokohama branch.
Police said a 33-year-old AUM follower falsely claimed he is not a member of the cult when he signed a two-year contract to rent the room in late July last year.
They said he also told the real estate agency that he would be the sole occupier of the apartment, which he would use as a residence and an office.
Police said four AUM members, including the man, established a computer software development company in the apartment and lived and worked there.
AUM now calls itself Aleph.
(Kyodo News Service, February 28, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 28 (Kyodo) - The defense presented its closing arguments Monday in the trial at the Tokyo District Court of Yasuo Hayashi, a former AUM Shinrikyo senior member accused of leading the 1994 sarin nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
The defense council argued that Hayashi, 42, does not deserve the death penalty as he was not responsible for the Matsumoto gas attack.
''Hayashi never participated in the planning of the attack. He only took the role in carrying out the gas attack because of pressure from Chizuo Matsumoto,'' the 44-year-old AUM founder known to followers as Shoko Asahara.
The council said Hayashi, having a limited knowledge of poisonous gas, thought the sarin gas was not potent enough to kill people.
The court is to hand down its ruling June 29.
After the defense ended its presentation, Hayashi told the court, ''I think I will be given the death penalty despite my reason for the attack,'' adding, ''I am deeply sorry for the victims and the injured (of the attacks).''
''I am responsible for the deaths of people killed in the attacks. I cannot help thinking what a mad thing I have done,'' he said.
Prosecutors claimed Hayashi played a leading role in the cult's indiscriminate terrorism. They alleged he was involved not only in the two sarin attacks but also in an effort to spread cyanide gas at Tokyo's Shinjuku Station in 1995, wiretapping and the building of a plant to manufacture sarin gas.
The death penalty was sought for Hayashi on charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the two gassings, which claimed a total of 19 lives and injured more than 5,400 people, in addition to other charges.
Fourteen people, including Hayashi and Asahara, have been indicted on murder charges over the Tokyo subway gassing.
Of the five AUM members suspected of carrying out the subway gassing, Hayashi is the fourth for whom capital punishment was sought.
by Calvin Sims ("The New York Times", February 28, 2000)
|YOKOHAMA, Japan, Feb. 26 -- Outside the local office of the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect here, dozens of riot police officers have been permanently stationed to control angry Japanese mobs that gather to denounce the sect, which killed 12 people five years ago when it released deadly nerve gas in the Tokyo subways.
Inside, Fumihiro Joyu, the boyish 37-year-old former spokesman for the group who became its de facto leader after being released from prison late last year, insists that the sect no longer represents a threat to Japanese society. The sect no longer espouses the same ideology, he said, though he insisted that followers had no reason to give up their reverence for the former leader who had led them to carry out the attack.
"Japanese society has nothing to fear from us," Mr. Joyu said. "I think that the most important factor in resolving this conflict is time. We need time to adapt ourselves to the real world without losing our basic beliefs, and Japanese society needs time to get used to our different kind of philosophy and values."
(Kyodo News Service, February 26, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 26 (Kyodo) - Eight municipalities home to AUM Shinrikyo facilities said they will continue to refuse to register members of the cult as residents, according to a Kyodo News survey released Saturday.
They said they are refusing registration because of local residents' anxiety about the group, a number of whose members have been tried for murder, kidnapping and other crimes, including involvement in the March 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways.
To defuse concerns, the Public Security Investigation Agency has begun informing municipalities of the results of its inspections of AUM facilities.
But the survey shows the measure has not resulted in municipalities accepting residential registrations from members of the cult, which now calls itself ''Aleph.''
Under a new law enacted in December to crack down on the cult, the agency inspected AUM facilities in nine municipalities in early February. The legislation allows the agency to put AUM under surveillance for up to three years.
Eight of the nine said they would continue to refuse registration, while the remaining one -- Otawara in Tochigi Prefecture -- agreed to consider accepting registration on condition that AUM closes its facilities in the city.
In Otawara and six other municipalities, residents have kept a watch on AUM facilities. In Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture, where AUM has its headquarters, residents have mounted a 24-hour watch.
The municipalities surveyed also include Yokohama and Tokyo's Adachi Ward
by Kazuo Kojima ("Mainichi Shimbun", February 25, 2000)
The doomsday cult formerly known as AUM Shinrikyo has been put under constant monitoring since the introduction of a law against "groups that carried out indiscriminate mass-murder," which, in effect, was invoked to tame just one group.
There can be no excuse for what guru Shoko Asahara and those indicted AUM members have allegedly done, but normal members of AUM, now known as Aleph, who had not committed any crime are quite a different matter.
Do they really deserve to cop it under this "purge" authorized under the hastily drawn up anti-AUM law?
Osamu Watanabe, a professor of sociology at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, says that persecuting innocent members of the cult won't resolve any problems, and may even drive them underground and make them hostile toward the society.
"Judging from the facts that emerged from the trials of AUM members, it is undeniable that the cult's leadership masterminded mass murders and that AUM is an extremely dangerous organization," Watanabe said. "However, this law clearly infringes on the Constitution that guarantees the freedom of religion."
If the authorities were to justify such action, they must prove that the cult would repeat its atrocities again and again unless it was monitored under the law," Watanabe said.
"AUM is a fanatical group whose executives are prepared to kill somebody under orders of Asahara, but no member joined the group with an intent to carry out mass murder, they started to do so due to their interest in the idea of deliverance, yoga and so on," Watanabe said.
He said that there were no grounds for labeling AUM as an organization that carries out indiscriminate murder. It would be like assuming that the Liberal Democratic Party's chief aim as a group is to make profits from bribery just because of past bribery scandals.
"AUM is not a terrorist group such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Can you argue that you have to violate a constitutional right to prevent AUM from committing another murder spree? I doubt it," Watanabe said.
The professor said that AUM deserves the hostility it receives from people living close to its facilities since its failure to admit or offer apologies for its st wrongs.
However, he argued that open discrimination against members of the cult, such as the refusal by Saitama's Tokigawa Municipal Government to admit 6-year-old twins of an AUM Shinrikyo executive from their local elementary school, had a detrimental effect in resolving the problem.
"It is much better to integrate AUM children to the normal school life and free them from religious mind control."
Watanabe believes that the role of central and local governments, not security authorities, is essential.
"Equipped with the anti-AUM law, security authorities are trying to put AUM to submission by force, but I don't think you can dissolve the cult this way. The cult members would go underground with strong feeling of hostility against the society that persecuted them. The persecution may bring out new anti-social, violent resentment against the society from the cult," Watanabe said. He said the state and local governments should take a lead in making AUM more acceptable to the society.
Watanabe said that administrators should introduce rules that makes it obligatory to the cult, for example, open their facilities to local communities; make an oath not to cause any inconvenience to anybody through its religious activities; not to recruit from non-adult member of the society. It is also crucial for the cult to allow a member to leave AUM, and permit free communication between members and their families.
"First of all, it is essential for AUM to offer its sincere apologies to all concerned parties and accept that kind of conditions in order to be accepted," Watanabe emphasized. Watanabe is also concerned by the way the fear-driven society is rejecting AUM.
"I think the mentality of 'AUM purge' is similar to that of people who attacked students of Korean schools following a missile launch by North Korea, or people who reject the construction of care homes for mentally disabled in their local areas."
He acknowledges that AUM is different in actually committing mass murders, but thinks it is an essential part of free society to accept different ideas..
Administrators must find and work on the way that can reassure residents of their safety without violating the Constitution.
("Russia Today Magazine", February 24, 2000)
Izvestiya has conducted an independent investigation of the Japanese sect Aum Sinrikoe's activities in Russia. The sect became world-known after its members conducted a poison gas attack in a Tokyo subway. Previously, Aum leaders came to Russia and were received at the highest government levels - by First Deputy Premier Oleg Soskovets and Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov.
Lobov and a certain ministry official Muravyev established a Russo-Japanese University providing visas for the Japanese visitors. Apart from missionary purposes, the totalitarian sect was looking for weapons in Russia - they wanted to buy machine guns and find out the technologies to produce the chemical weapon sarin gas. The members of the sect visited several research institutes in Moscow, including the Gas and Hydrodynamics institute, where explosions and gas pollution were studied.
The sect has been officially prohibited in Russia since 1995, but it still has monasteries in the Russian provinces and prints a lot of religious literature in Russia. A well-organized group of Aum resides in Moscow. They provide Internet access to the rest of the Russian sect and also deal in real estate and other trades. The source of their money is primarily Japanese.
(Kyodo News Service, February 19, 2000)
MITO, Japan, Feb. 19 (Kyodo) - Police arrested two daughters of Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, and another sect member Saturday in connection with the kidnapping of Asahara's 7-year-old son in Ibaraki Prefecture in January.
The two daughters, aged 19 and 16, were arrested on suspicion of trespassing while the male follower, identified as Nobuki Ami, 35, was apprehended on suspicion of assault and trespassing, police said.
The trio surrendered to police in the town of Hokota in Ibaraki Prefecture on Saturday afternoon, accompanied by their lawyers.
The 7-year-old son was rescued unhurt at an inn in Kanagawa Prefecture on Jan. 23, two days after he was abducted from an AUM facility in the village of Asahi, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.
According to police, a group of six people, including the two daughters, kidnapped the boy from the facility Jan. 21. Police allege that during the abduction, Ami choked another male follower, injuring him.
Two other male followers have been arrested by Ibaraki police in connection with the case.
Asahara, 44, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and his wife have four daughters and two sons. The couple are in custody for their alleged involvement in a series of AUM-related crimes.
The two daughters were the first of Asahara's children to be arrested.
Asahara is on trial for allegedly masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
(Reuters, February 19, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Two daughters of Japan's doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara were arrested on Saturday on suspicion of kidnapping the guru's seven-year-old son, police said.
Police arrested the daughters aged 19 and 16 for allegedly being a part of a group of six members of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) cult who barged into a cult building last month, assaulted other members and made off with the boy.
The incident was part of an internal power struggle within the group blamed for 1995 deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, they said.
The cult struck fear in Japan with the gas attack five years ago, which killed 12 people and made thousands ill.
The boy was found unhurt at a small inn about two days after he was taken captive. Police have arrested five of the six people who were allegedly involved in the kidnapping.
In January, the group announced drastic reforms, including a name change to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ``Aleph.''
(Kyodo News Service, February 18, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 18 (Kyodo) - The government has paid some 440 million yen in legal fees for members of AUM Shinrikyo since August 1995 under a system to assist criminal defendants unable to hire counsel for trials, a court official said Friday.
The Tokyo District Court has appointed a total of 135 lawyers for 67 AUM defendants -- including AUM founder Shoko Asahara -- with funding from state coffers, Supreme Court Criminal Affairs Bureau Director Yu Shiraki told the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee.
The court appointed the state-funded counsel for Asahara, 44, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, after he dismissed his own counsel without appointing a replacement.
The system is designed mostly to help defendants who are financially incapable of hiring lawyers on their own. However, in Asahara's case, state-funded lawyers were provided to help speed up his trial, according to government authorities.
By comparison, government compensation paid to the families of victims of AUM-related crimes stands at about 66 million yen, National Police Agency Secretariat Director Shigeaki Ishikawa told the committee.
This compensation has been handed over to 14 relatives of the victims, he said.
A number of members of AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, are being tried for a series of crimes including the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
Many families of the 12 victims have been redressed not by government compensation but rather by workers' accident compensation, which covers accidents that happen during an employee's commute.
(Kyodo News Service, February 18, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 18 (Kyodo) - Education Minister Hirofumi Nakasone called on a village authority in Saitama Prefecture on Friday to allow 6-year-old twin daughters of a former senior AUM Shinrikyo member to attend the local elementary school.
''We can fully understand the anxiety of local residents, but children's right to education needs to be respected,'' Nakasone said at a press conference.
''We hope the education board of the village of Tokigawa will, based on this prerequisite, discuss the matter with people from AUM Shinrikyo and find a satisfactory solution,'' Nakasone said.
The minister said he has already conveyed his opinion to the education panel of the village in the prefecture bordering Tokyo to the north.
Despite the constitutional right to education, the board refused to allow the twins to attend a local elementary school in April this year, saying it would cause trouble in the school because of local residents' opposition to the cult's presence in the village.
The twins live at an AUM facility in the village.
A number of members of AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, are being tried for crimes, including the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands. Some of them have already been convicted.
The twins' mother, Hisako Ishii, 39, one of those convicted and now serving a jail sentence, has sued the education board seeking a court order for it to retract the rejection. Ishii was once AUM's financial manager.
Meanwhile, government investigators on Friday began the third round of searches this month of facilities owned by AUM, mainly to examine sources of the group's funding.
Public Security Investigation Agency chief Shigeo Kifuji told the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on Friday that the agency may search AUM members' residences as well if it suspects the group has hidden assets there.
Agency officials entered two buildings for the searches, one in Tokyo's Adachi Ward and the other in Yashio in Saitama Prefecture.
The condominium in Tokyo is believed to be used as the head office of an AUM-related computer company, while the Saitama building is thought to be an assembly plant for personal computers.
The searches, separate from ongoing police monitoring of the religious group, is in line with an anti-AUM law enacted last December.
The agency inspected other premises related to AUM on Feb. 4 and 10.
(Kyodo News Service, February 18, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 18 (Kyodo) - Government investigators began Friday their third inspection this month of facilities owned by the AUM Shinrikyo cult, mainly to examine sources of the group's funding.
Officials from the Public Security Investigation Agency entered two facilities in Tokyo's Adachi Ward and Yashio in Saitama Prefecture, north of the capital.
Cult members are believed to be using a Tokyo condominium as the head office of an AUM-related computer company, while a Saitama building is thought to be an assembly plant for personal computers.
The inspection, separate from ongoing police monitoring of the cult, is in line with an anti-AUM law enacted last December. The searches are intended to ease neighbors' anxieties about the facilities.
A number of members of the cult, which now calls itself Aleph, are being tried on charges of serious crimes, including the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and injured thousands.
The agency inspected other AUM facilities on Feb. 4 and 10.
(Nando Times, February 17, 2000)
TOKYO (February 17, 2000) - A former doomsday cult member was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his role in the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
The Tokyo District Court returned the verdict in the case against Kiyotaka Tonozaki, 31, a court official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tonozaki was one of 14 Aum Shinri Kyo cult members indicted on murder charges in the 1995 sarin gas attack.
On the morning of March 20, 1995, Tonozaki drove fellow cult member Masato Yokoyama to a subway station. Yokoyama was one of a squad of five cultists who released the nerve gas in subway trains.
Yokoyama was sentenced to death in September last year by the same court.
Presiding Judge Takao Nakayama told the court Thursday that Tonozaki played an "essential role" in the attack by working with accomplices in advance, Kyodo News agency said.
During the trial, Tonozaki apologized to victims of the gassing. He later quit the cult.
Under a recently enacted special law, Japanese authorities last month placed the cult under strict surveillance for up to three years because of fears the group is reviving.
The group has recently admitted for the first time that its founder, Shoko Asahara, played a role in the gas attack. Asahara, 44, is on trial on various charges, including murder.
The cult, which is believed to have some 2,000 followers in Japan, recently changed its name to "Aleph," the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
(Kyodo News Service, February 17, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 17 (Kyodo) - The Tokyo District Court on Thursday sentenced a former member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult to life imprisonment for his role as a driver in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Kiyotaka Tonozaki, 36, received the life term, as demanded by prosecutors, for providing transport to another AUM member Masato Yokoyama in the attack, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,300.
Tonozaki's lawyers said they will urge the accused to appeal the ruling.
Tonozaki is the second person to receive life imprisonment for providing transport in the attack, following Koichi Kitamura, 31, whom the district court sentenced last November. Kitamura is appealing the ruling.
Presiding Judge Takao Nakayama said Tonozaki played an ''essential role'' in the subway gassing, having planned it with accomplices in advance. He rejected the defense's claim that the accused was not fully involved in the attack.
During the trial, Tonozaki apologized to victims of the gassing and bereaved relatives, saying he now believes the teachings of AUM founder and leader Shoko Asahara are wrong. He has quit the cult.
However, Nakayama said he doubts the sincerity of Tonozaki's repentance and that the defendant bears serious criminal responsibility.
The judge said it was merely coincidental that no one died as a result of sarin released on a train on the Marunouchi Line by Yokoyama to whom Tonozaki provided transport. That failure to take any lives should not be considered grounds for leniency, Nakayama said.
Yokoyama was sentenced to death Sept. 30 last year by the district court and appealed to the Tokyo High Court.
Asahara, 44, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial over 17 criminal cases, including masterminding the sarin gas attack, which took place March 20, 1995.
Fourteen people were indicted on murder charges in the case. Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for five of them including Yokoyama.
AUM now calls itself Aleph.
("Yomiuri Shimbun", February 17, 2000)
OSAKA -- The Aum Supreme Truth cult closed its Osaka branch in Ikuno Ward earlier this month, allegedly to prevent the premises from being searched by authorities, police and the Public Security Investigation Agency officials said Wednesday.
According to the officials, the branch, a single room on the second floor of a three-story building, closed on Feb. 14 after cult members removed furniture and other items.
Later the same day, the lease on the property was canceled and a set of keys were returned to the real estate company that manages the building.
The branch is the first Aum-related facility in the Kansai region to close.
The cult began renting the room in March 1998, the officials said, adding that about 10 cult members are thought to have been living there.
Police suspect the cult closed the branch to evade investigations by authorities under a recently enacted law that gives police extra surveillance powers over organizations deemed to be a threat to public safety.
("Asahi Shimbun", February 17, 2000)
The Tokyo District Court handed down a life sentence this morning to former Aum Shinrikyo follower Kiyotaka Tonozaki for helping to transport sarin nerve gas that was used in the deadly attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
The court found that Tonozaki, 36, drove Aum member Masato Yokoyama to a subway station to release the gas and picked him up afterward.
Judge Akiyoshi Yamauchi said Tonozaki knew full well that sarin was lethal and thus played a key role in the terrorist attack.
Tonozaki had claimed he did not know about the toxicity of sarin nor of the plot to release the gas on subway cars with the intention of killing a lot of people.
The attack left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.
However, the court decided that Tonozaki must have known that sarin was lethal because he had attended lectures on the subject by Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto and seen posters about the gas in Aum facilities.
The court also noted that Tonozaki went on a reconnaissance run with Yokoyama. It reasoned he must have known of the plot.
Fourteen present or past Aum members have been indicted on murder and other charges in connection with the March 20, 1995, attack.
Five served as drivers. Tonozaki is the second to receive a life sentence after Koichi Kitamura, 31. Kitamura appealed to a higher court.
(Kyodo News Service, February 16, 2000)
URAWA, Japan, Feb. 16 (Kyodo) - A former member of the AUM Shinrikyo cult and her husband filed a suit Tuesday with a district court in Saitama Prefecture, demanding a local village education board rescind its decision not to admit their children to a school as well as 1 million yen in damages.
Hisako Ishii, 39, and her husband mailed the Urawa District Court a petition demanding the education board of Tokigawa cancel its decision not to allow their 6-year-old twins, who live at an AUM facility in Tokigawa, to enter an elementary school in the village.
The petition claims the decision violates Article 26 of the Constitution which guarantees people's right to education.
The petition also demanded 500,000 yen for each of the children for psychological damage inflicted by the decision.
The education board decided not to grant the children admission last September, saying it would cause trouble in the school and that opposition to the cult by local residents is strong.
(Kyodo News Service, February 15, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 15 (Kyodo) - Prosecutors indicted Tuesday a senior member of the Tokyo chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on charges of libeling one of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara's sons during last April's gubernatorial election.
Between April 7 and 9 last year, Nobuyuki Akiba, secretary general of the chapter, allegedly sent 34 voters pamphlets that said, ''Ishihara's fourth son is a senior member of the cult AUM Shinrikyo.''
The pamphlets said Nobuhiro Ishihara, who is a 33-year-old painter, was rescued from an AUM facility and hospitalized -- a fiction, according to the indictment.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said that Akiba has not been arrested.
Several AUM members including founder Shoko Asahara have been indicted on charges of serious crimes, including the 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and injured thousands.
Prosecutors said they believe Akiba, 58, also sent similar literature to several hundred supporters in Tokyo to damage Ishihara's campaign.
The LDP backed Yasushi Akashi, a former undersecretary general of the United Nations, in the gubernatorial election.
The son's attorneys, who submitted documents last September urging the Tokyo metropolitan police to launch a full investigation into the affair, said in a statement, ''The damage to the painter's reputation by being called an AUM member is very serious. We have great respect for the prosecutors.''
("Mainichi Shimbun", February 12, 2000)
TENEI, Fukushima - The AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult may be making inroads into a Fukushima Prefecture village as people believed to be AUM members are negotiating to buy a hotel in the area, local sources have said.
The case is the first revelation of the cult's attempt to move to the countryside since the Public Security Examination Commission approved placing the cult under tough surveillance at the end of January.
Members of the cult, which now calls itself Aleph, are trying to buy a hotel near Lake Hatori in Tenei, Fukushima Prefecture, village sources said.
People in the village and nearby areas had already formed a task force to block the cult's advance into their area.
An AUM official said that cult higher-ups don't know about the move. "Because (AUM members) have lost access to facilities in many areas, small groups of followers are looking for places to live," the official said.
("Asahi Shimbun", February 11, 2000)
YOKOHAMA-An Aum Shinrikyo facility in Yokohama, functioning now practically as the headquarters of the cult, was searched Thursday by members of the Public Security Investigation Agency.
This was the second inspection of Aum facilities since a law was enacted in December to crack down on the cult, which now calls itself ``Aleph.''
Five other facilities were searched on Feb. 4 but the Yokohama chapter, which had previously been inspected several times by the Kanagawa prefectural police and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, was not among them.
More than 10 agency officials in blue jackets entered the chapter, located on the second floor of an apartment in Yokohama, shortly before 8 a.m. They completed the inspection by 10 a.m.
Agency officials said they had asked prefectural police to join them in the search but they had declined to do so.
Fumihiro Joyu, a senior member who was freed from Hiroshima prison in December, currently resides at the Yokohama chapter.
(Kyodo News Service, February 10, 2000)
YOKOHAMA, Feb. 10 (Kyodo) - The Public Security Investigation Agency inspected the Yokohama branch of AUM Shinrikyo on Thursday under a law enacted in December to crack down on the cult.
The condominium in Yokohama's Naka Ward is the sixth AUM location to be searched by the agency or police under the new law.
In January, the Public Security Examination Commission, an independent board, allowed the security agency and police to search AUM facilities without a warrant, under the law.
The Yokohama branch, where senior cult member Fumihiro Joyu has been staying since his release from prison in December, functions as the de facto headquarters of the religious group, agency sources said.
Local residents have been staging one of the toughest and most strenuous campaigns to oust the cult from their community among Japanese municipalities where AUM's facilities are located, including the filing of a lawsuit in 1996 seeking a court order to shut down the Yokohama branch.
The two-hour search was conducted solely by the security agency, unlike searches on five other AUM facilities that were undertaken Friday jointly by the agency and police.
According to the Justice Ministry, agency inspectors and police are allowed to view financial statements and documents and take pictures inside the premises being inspected under the law.
But they cannot conduct body checks or forcibly open locked storage cases, and must obtain approval to make copies of documents as the searches are not based on a warrant.
The Public Security Examination Commission allowed the agency Jan. 31 to put AUM under surveillance in collaboration with the police for up to three years.
AUM, which now calls itself ''Aleph,'' filed a lawsuit Tuesday with the Tokyo District Court seeking a court order for a halt to the ongoing inspections of its facilities and for revocation of the decision to put the cult under surveillance.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial in 17 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
(Reuters, February 10, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Japanese authorities on Thursday searched the headquarters of the doomsday cult accused of a fatal gas attack on the Tokyo subway, two days after the group filed a lawsuit claiming the government was violating its freedoms.
The Public Security Investigation Agency searched facilities of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) cult in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo.
It was the sixth raid by authorities using new powers aimed at cracking down on the group under a three-year government surveillance programme which began last week.
The Yokohama facilities are home to Fumihiro Joyu, seen as the cult's leader since his release from prison in December.
The group filed a lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the government was stripping away its right to religious freedom under new laws.
The 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway killed 12 and injured thousands. Cult leader Shoko Asahara, currently on trial for his alleged role in the cult's crimes, preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for various calamities
("Kyodo News Service", February 9, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 9 (Kyodo) - Prosecutors on Wednesday released a senior member of AUM Shinrikyo arrested on suspicion of intimidating a bank executive after the bank refused to open an account for the cult.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office said the incident was not serious enough to indict Naruhito Noda.
Noda, 33, said in a news conference at the cult's Yokohama branch later in the day that the cult will protest against police investigation methods.
''The authorities' investigation methods were unfair. They took advantage of the incident to create a mood leading up to the official announcement to put the cult under their surveillance,'' he said. ''I don't think it was an incident at all.''
According to police, Noda was refused on Jan. 19 when he visited a branch of a city bank in Tokyo's Adachi Ward and asked to open an account in the name of a religious group called ''Aleph,'' the new name AUM Shinrikyo has recently given itself.
Noda then threatened a branch executive, saying, ''I know a right-wing organization and I'll ask the organization to drive a propaganda car to this bank,'' police said.
After his arrest on Jan. 24, Noda told investigators he wanted to open a bank account to start compensation for victims of AUM's crimes.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial in 17 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000
(Agence France Presse, February 8, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb 8 (AFP) - Japan's Aleph doomsday cult, formerly named Aum Supreme Truth, on Tuesday launched a court battle against a security crackdown on its activities.
"The sect filed a suit demanding the retraction of a decision to put it under surveillance," said a spokesman for Tokyo District Court, where the suit was filed.
Japan's Public Security Commission announced January 31 it had approved an official clampdown on the cult amid fears it could strike again five years after a lethal gas attack on Tokyo's subway.
The commission cited a "danger that it will commit indiscriminate mass murder again" after the March 1995 gas attack which killed 12 people and injured thousands of others.
The approval was required under legislation passed in December last year which allowed police to conduct raids and demand information and financial data without the need for a warrant.
A female cult disciple declined to comment on the suit when contacted by telephone.
But according to Jiji Press news agency, the cult claimed that the new anti-cult legislation "violates the principle of equality under law as it solely targets the sect.
"It also violates the constitution as it violates freedom of religion and privacy of followers." While the law did not identify the sect by name, it referred to organisations that had committed indiscriminate mass murder and was widely understood to be targetted at Aleph, or Aum Supreme Truth.
But "even on the hypothesis that the law is regarded as constitutional, the sect does not meet conditions for the authorities to resort to use of the law," the cult's suit reportedly said.
"There is no specified danger that the sect will carry out random mass murder," it claimed.
Japan's authorities executed multiple raids Friday, the first such action made under the new law.
Eighty-five inspectors from the Public Security Investigation Agency, joined by more than 100 local police, swooped on five cult properties around Japan.
But on its Internet home page, the Aleph cult said Tuesday the raids were "meaningless," adding that alleged suggestions by the authorities that it had tried to block the action were "perverse." The cult issued a statement on January 18 deposing its jailed former guru Shoko Asahara as leader, changing the sect name to Aleph and vowing reforms, including a pledge to obey the law.
Asahara, 44, is in jail facing 17 charges including orchestrating the Tokyo subway attack.
(Kyodo News Service, February 8, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 8 (Kyodo) - The Justice Ministry's Public Security Investigation Agency will advise members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult Thursday on how to draft a membership roster and finance report as required under an AUM surveillance law, agency sources said Tuesday.
Agency officials will meet with five AUM members, including acting leader Tatsuko Muraoka, to provide them with details on the format of the documents.
Police and agency officials inspected five cult facilities Friday, in line with the law enacted last December to crack down on AUM. The law does not mention the group by name.
The legislation requires that the two documents, which must include followers' names, addresses, the location and purpose of the group's facilities and the cult's capital and debt, be submitted by March 1.
The Public Security Examination Commission, an independent panel that authorized Jan. 31 surveillance and inspections of the cult, has also demanded the identities of followers who do not live at AUM's facilities. The cult's leadership says that would be an infringement of their privacy.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Hideo Usui said Tuesday that the security agency and police checked personal computers belonging to AUM as part of the inspections Friday.
Usui said that authorities will inspect the cult's other facilities if they deem such inspections necessary.
AUM, which recently renamed itself ''Aleph,'' operated computer shops through affiliates to finance its activities.
The agency said nothing hazardous was found during the inspections and that the computers contained no data.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 44, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial in 17 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
(Reuters, February 8, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb 8 (Reuters) - The Japanese doomsday cult accused of a fatal 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway filed a lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the government was stripping away its right to religious freedom by putting the group under surveillance.
The Aum Shinri Kyo (supreme truth) cult said the inspections, authorised under new laws aimed at cracking down on the group, infringe on the constitutional rights of its members to religious freedom, Japanese media reports said.
The laws target the activities of any group which has engaged in ``indiscriminate mass murder'' in the past 10 years. In the cult's nerve gas attack on the capital's subway system, 12 were killed and thousands injured.
Police and security officers had inspected five of the cult's facilities since the government decided to put Aum under surveillance last week. The group is also required to submit the names of its members to authorities.
``If the names and addresses of our members are publicised, they could be forced to leave where they live and lose their jobs,'' Kyodo news agency quoted senior cult member Akitoshi Hirosue as saying.
Aum has responded to growing public hostility towards it by announcing reforms, including a name change, and saying that it is now a benign religious group. Despite this, cult members were implicated in crimes twice last month.
Cult leader Shoko Asahara, currently on trial for his alleged role in the cult's crimes, preached that the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for various calamities.
(Kyodo News Service, February 8, 2000)
TOKYO, Feb. 8 (Kyodo) - The AUM Shinrikyo cult filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking a court order for the government to stop ongoing inspections of its facilities and rescind the decision to put the cult under surveillance, AUM members said.
The lawsuit, filed with the Tokyo District Court, said such surveillance by the Public Security Investigation Agency and police is not necessary and runs contrary to the Constitution's stipulation of freedom of religion.
Police and agency officials inspected five cult facilities Friday in line with a law enacted last December targeting any organization that has committed ''indiscriminate mass murder during the past 10 years'' although it does not mention AUM by name.
Akitoshi Hirosue, a senior member of the cult, which now calls itself ''Aleph,'' told a press conference after filing the suit that the inspections are not necessary.
''In 108 searches of a number of our facilities since January last year, police have confiscated 7,800 floppy disks and 225 hard disks, and so we have few things left,'' he said.
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