Aum Shinri-kyon:Alternative Views
a report by Kenichi Asano (Professor of Journalism, Doshisha University)
The Yasukuni Shinto Shrine, located near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, is dedicated to the late Premier Hideki Tojo and other Class A war criminals of World War II. During the war, the Japanese military was responsible for the deaths of twenty million innocent people in Asia and the Pacific; yet at Yasukuni, Tojo and others responsible for those deaths have been worshiped as gods in the name of Shintoism. Shintoism is the nationalistic religion that served as the foundation for the imperialist, militarist view of Japanese history and society in which Asian peoples were indoctrinated prior to and during the World War II era. Under Shintoism, both Japanese citizens and conquered Asians were coerced into accepting their status as children of the then-living god, Emperor Hirohito, and into participating in the creation of the Japan-dominated "Great East Asian Prosperity Sphere." After World War II, both Hirohito and Shintoism evaded responsibility and accountability for their role in the onset and conduct of the war. Indeed, Shintoism has survived as a religious entity in the post-war era. A recent movie entitled "Pride" that glorified Tojo attained great popularity, while a comic book that describes World War II as a holy war fought to free Asian countries from the Western colonial powers sold like hot cakes.
Our society, while not requiring accountability of Emperor Hirohito and Shintoism fifty-four years ago, today demands the dissolution of AUM Shinrikyo as a religious corporation and blatantly tramples on the residence rights of faithful AUM adherents. These actions are based on the prosecution's charges against some AUM members of murdering the family of a Yokohama lawyer and of conducting two sarin nerve gas attacks that together killed twenty people. Ironically, while the detestable, nationalistic Shintoism that played a central role in Japan's aggressive and murderous policies during the war has remained intact, AUM followers are being mercilessly persecuted and their high-profile members are being tried and convicted one after another.
Although there is a national taboo against recognizing Emperor Hirohito's culpability for the war, a widespread public consensus has already emerged on what to do with Shoko Asahara and his followers, even before they have been convicted of any crimes: "AUM members should be hanged." Few people speak out for the human rights of AUM followers.
Why is AUM Hated?
In early September of 1999, the anchorman of a nationwide news telecast on the TV-Asahi network surprised himself, as well as his listeners, with the following statistic: the Jinja Honcho is the largest formal religion in Japan, with a total of seventy million followers. If this statistic is accurate, it follows that most adults in Japan must be adherents of the Jinja Honcho. In fact, the Jinja Honcho is the same religion as Shintoism and controls 79,184 Shinto shrines throughout the country. There are also a number of different sects and schools in Shintoism, including some independent shrines such as the Yasukuni Shrine. According to The 1998 Religious Almanac of Japan, the statistics on religion in Japan are as follows:
11,214,331 other religions
Since there are only 120 million people in Japan, these statistics seem to indicate that most Japanese adults believe in both Shintoism and Buddhism. Despite these statistics, however, I believe that only a very small percentage of the Japanese population is sincerely and piously religious. Indeed, the fact that only a little more than one percent of its population is Christian makes Japan unique in the world.
My own experience illustrates this point. In 1966, I had the opportunity to study as an American Field Service International Scholarship student at a high school in Springfield, Missouri. Although at that time most Japanese were atheists, as they are now, my father's family line was Shintoist, and indeed, several of my relatives are Shinto priests. Because of this, I unthinkingly wrote "Shintoist" in the religion blank on my personal data form. Because the members of my host family were earnest and pious Baptists, they took this seriously and attempted to persuade me to study more about Shintoism and then to abjure it.
In 1972, I became a correspondent for The Kyodo News, one of the most notable news agencies in Japan. Since then, throughout my career as a journalist, I have had the opportunity to observe and reflect upon religious issues and the influence of religion. From February 1989 to July 1992, for example, I was chief of the Jakarta branch office of The Kyodo News, a situation which afforded me the opportunity to live in and observe an Islamic society. When I was in East Timor, I learned about how influential Catholicism was there; and, when I covered Southeast Asia, I learned and then wrote about Buddhism in Burma.
In many countries it is a normal state of affairs to have different religions and ethnic groups living together. However, in Japan there is much less religious and ethnic diversity. The Yamato race comprises approximately ninety-eight percent of the Japanese population; foreigners, including Koreans, make up less than one percent; and other Japanese minorities, such as the Ainumoshiri and Ryukyu races, make up the other one percent. All but a very small percentage of the total population are more or less atheist.
It was in this homogeneous cultural and religious context that AUM Shinrikyo emerged in the late 1980s as a new religion and gained popularity, especially among the younger generation. While I was living in Jakarta they participated in a national election, which aided their expansion considerably. AUM Shinrikyo members appeared on a popular television debate show, "Asamade Nama Terebi," and won an overwhelming victory over their opponents from another religious group. I was told that the emcee of the program even praised AUM Shinrikyo. I recall that AUM founder Shoko Asahara's books sold like hot cakes and were stacked up not only in the bookstore of Doshisha University, but also in that of Kyoto University, one of the most prestigious universities in Japan. After I became a professor of journalism at Doshisha University in 1994, I had the opportunity to present speeches for various occasions, and I made it a rule to distribute questionnaires asking the audience for the names of persons they wished to hear as a speaker in the future. Mr. Asahara's name was always near the top of the list.
AUM Shinrikyo came under severe public criticism on March 22, 1995. On that day, the police raided AUM facilities across the country and arrested a number of followers in connection with the Tokyo subway gassing incident that had occurred two days earlier. AUM became the target of additional public censure when it was accused of responsibility for the 1989 murder of a lawyer and his family. In connection with these and other incidents, AUM's founder and almost one hundred of his followers have been indicted. Indeed, some of his followers have already been found guilty, despite the fact that Shoko Asahara's trial is not yet concluded, and despite the fact that it is not at all clear whether he ordered his followers as a group to perpetrate these incidents.
The Japanese public, however, has already concluded that AUM as a group is guilty and has been engaging in discrimination and harassment against those who follow or formerly followed AUM Shinrikyo. Thus innocent, rank-and-file AUM followers who have never been accused of any crimes are being deprived of their rights to live as they wish.
In our society, having a deep religious faith is regarded as bizarre. People tend to worship money and success instead. Indeed, a member of the foreign press at one time described the Japanese with contempt as "economic animals," and I cannot completely deny this. In addition, many Japanese people detest heterodoxies in any form. In the past, leftists have indiscriminately murdered innocent people while attempting to foment a communist revolution, and they have also killed each other in internal struggles. Gangsters and participants in organized crime also employ violence to achieve their purposes. Yet no group has been hated more than AUM, and the reason for this is that AUM Shinrikyo is a religion beyond the comprehension of ordinary Japanese citizens.
The modern democratic principle that the accused is presumed innocent until he or she has been proven guilty has yet to take deep root in Japanese society. Worse still, there is as yet little understanding in Japan that journalists and the press should keep watch on officials such as the investigative authorities in order to prevent abuses of power. Instead, the Japanese media has joined the authorities in concluding that AUM's leader, Shoko Asahara, in his despair masterminded this series of deadly incidents. The media has thus played an important role in shaping the public's opinion that AUM's teachings are dangerous enough to provoke homicide.
Few people have dared to object to this widely held opinion. The situation was accurately described in an article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times on August 27. This article, written by Mr. Calvin Sims and partially based on an interview with me, is entitled "Still Furious at Cult, Japan Violates Its Rights" and highlights the un-constitutionality of the ongoing anti-AUM discrimination.
"Heads of municipalities said that although they knew their actions were unlawful, they would reject residency applications by AUM followers," Mr. Sims said to me, "In Japan, if an official takes an unlawful action, which authority should prosecute and punish it?" I had no choice but to answer, "The Ministry of Justice, I suppose."
The journalist started his lengthy article by quoting a man who climbed the hill behind AUM's buildings in order to peer through the surrounding trees and spy on them. "This is bad, very bad," he said. Yet Mr. Sims remarked on the fact that no one criticizes the way in which the government is treating AUM followers except a few human rights activists and Constitutional scholars, whose comments were also quoted in his newspaper piece.
Mr. Sims' article also used comments made by an anonymous police official, as well as by a named assistant chief of the Civil Liberties Bureau of the Ministry of Justice. This man told Sims: "We can't take any actions without a formal request," adding, "Both local residents and AUM followers have human rights." For the AUM perspective, the article quoted comments from Hiroshi Araki of AUM Shinrikyo's public relations department. Additionally, the article detailed harassment and violence perpetrated on AUM members by local residents and gangsters. In general, the article was well balanced in describing the current situation of AUM Shinrikyo.
Reluctance of Government Officials and Newspaper Reporters to Conduct an Inside Investigation of AUM
You speak highly of us because we were the only newspaper to visit that former guest house to interview them. But I, for one, was opposed to that interview. I didn't go with the others because, if I had, I would have known there was no danger, and I knew how the people here felt about AUM.
Even though members of the municipal assembly inspected the building and found it to be safe, it does not matter because the local residents are vehemently demanding that AUM vacate.
The first comment was made on August 4, 1999 by a young Asahi Shinbun reporter who works in the Utsunomiya branch office and who reports on Tochigi prefectural government issues. The second was made a week earlier, on July 28, by a member of the municipal assembly of Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, while he was attending a meeting of the municipal assembly's special committee for anti-AUM measures, chaired by Takeo Yanagida.
Shortly after two children of AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara moved to Otawara on June 25 and applied for residency, city officials announced that their applications were being denied. As illustrated by the preceding two quotes, journalists and members of the municipal assembly stated that they would not conduct any investigation of the AUM building because if they did, they would have to acknowledge that there was no danger. In the midst of this and other unjust anti-AUM campaigns by local residents, the press and members of the municipal assembly, which should be scrutinizing the conduct of local authorities, refrained from performing their duty in this vital function.
Most people in Otawara were perfectly aware that the AUM members living there posed no imminent danger. However, the city government upheld the rejection of their applications for residency even thought it was clearly illegal to do so. Other than in the interests of public welfare, the only reason officials were able to give for their actions was that they sympathized with Otawara residents' unrest and uneasiness.
The local people themselves are frightened by the presence of the AUM members, although they cannot say exactly why. Agitated by the information released by the media and the authorities, they are effectively depriving AUM followers of their basic civil liberties. Shops display "NO AUM" signs on their facades; newspaper vendors refuse to sell them newspapers; gas stations refuse to sell them fuel; public baths refuse to admit them; municipal authorities refuse to provide them with garbage and sewage disposal services or even to read their water meter. Almost all lifelines are being cut off. Indeed, signs held by local residents demonstrating outside the AUM buildings read "Get off the earth" and "Go to outer space."
Japan is supposedly a country governed by law, yet what is occurring here is just the opposite. Local residents view all AUM followers as deserving of no human rights and wish to be rid of them. I find this mass hysteria much more frightening than the AUM movement itself.
In 1997 there occurred in the city of Kobe, in the Hyogo Prefecture, a series of incidents involving the murder or injuring of infants. Soon afterwards, false news reports appeared claiming that juvenile crimes were dramatically increasing in number. Basing its actions on the Kobe incidents and the news reports, the government attempted to make the Juvenile Law Code more stringent. However, it was discovered that there were no actual statistics to back up the reported upsurge in juvenile delinquency. More recently, Taku Yamazaki and other members of the Lower House have used the massacre of East Timorese citizens by Indonesian army troops as a pretext to immediately lift the ban on sending Japanese peacekeeping forces abroad. Ironically, they show no repentance for any responsibility they might have in the present situation: in 1976, the then-dominant LDP Party supported the Suharto military regime in Indonesia, giving it tacit permission to invade East Timor.
The strategy of conservative reactionaries appears to be to foment fear in order to create bad legislation, without regard for appearances or consequences. The neo-fascists in Japan are using the AUM situation as a pretext for increasing their control over Japanese society as a whole and to expedite the creation of a police state. What we must oppose is not AUM Shinrikyo so much as the growth of a nationalist power that takes advantage of the AUM situation to build a regime that could easily restrict the human rights of its citizens and suppress anti-establishment and grass roots movements.
Local Residents are Unable to Explain or Justify their Anti-AUM Campaigns
On August 4, 1999, the Liaison Committee on Human Rights and Media Conduct, of which I am a director, conducted a field investigation in and around an AUM complex in Tochigi Prefecture. Nineteen people who came from all over the country participated in this exercise. We were also joined by Mr. James Lewis, an American scholar of religion.
Our first stop was at a complex in which AUM followers resided, located in the Sakuyama Ward of Otawara. As we approached, we observed many signs and posters of various colors and sizes erected on the street, all with the slogan "We don't want AUM."
In front of the AUM building there was a "unity barracks," so-named to symbolize the solidarity of local residents against AUM; about ten older people were present. Behind the barracks was a small hill. Half way up this hill, trees had been cut down and a shack had been built. From this shack several people were peering through binoculars, keeping a vigilant watch over the AUM complex. Many signs with vitriolic slogans were fastened to the wall of this observation post: "We don't want AUM;" "We shall never forgive you! Get out immediately;" and "You murderers are our enemies!" We were welcomed by two men representing AUM Shinrikyo. The first was Mr. Nagayama, whom I had first met in 1995 at Aoyama General headquarters, on the occasion of my interviewing Mr. Fumihiro Joyu, the former chief of the group's public relations department. The second was Mr. Akitoshi Hirosue, the head of AUM's office for emergency measures against anti-AUM movements.
These two officials had been using a video camera to record the outrageous anti-AUM activities of Otawara's residents. At a later conference entitled "The Public Welfare Vs. the Rejection of AUM Residency Applications," held on September 15 in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, I had the opportunity of seeing their film. Although the video was only fifteen minutes in length, I found its contents profoundly disturbing.
On the video, one Otawara resident shouted, "Go back to your mothers. Except none of you have families, do you?" Another asked, "Don't you realize that you are being used by Asahara?" A third said, "You'll never succeed. Asahara will exploit you for the rest of your life," while another yelled at the AUM followers, "You're just practicing yoga, so why do you call it religion?" Singling out one particular AUM follower and calling his name without using an honorific title, another resident loudly claimed, "I know you! Don't look away from me!" And finally, contemptuously, a resident suggested, "Why don't you kill yourself! You've got nowhere else to go, nowhere else to live!" In addition to this evidence of the verbal harassment to which AUM followers were subjected, the video included footage of an incident in which a right-wing activist deliberately smashed his truck into the closed gates of the AUM compound, injuring two followers who were attempting to open the gates. Luckily, the two individuals were not seriously harmed, although the incident could have been fatal to one or both of them. Another scene on this video showed a group of right-wing activists standing on their sound truck and throwing juice cans at the compound. One AUM follower was hit in the face, resulting in an injury serious enough to require stitches.
After spending some time in the AUM building, I returned to the "unity barracks" and interviewed some of the elderly Otawara residents I found there. I asked them why they felt justified in telling the AUM followers to leave. Their responses varied, from "Please ask our leaders," to "Because it's my turn to be here," to "I can't answer that because those in charge are not here." By those in charge they seemed to mean the head of the Sakuyama Ward committee for anti-AUM measures. Then I dared to ask them, "Are you really so frightened of those AUM followers over there? What do you find so frightening about them?" They made various telling replies to my questions. "They do terrible things; they murdered innocent people with sarin, yet they show no remorse; they act as if they did nothing wrong," one said. Another complained, "They lack common courtesy. They don't say hello, and some of them even try to hide their faces from us or block our view of them with a barrier. They use a hidden camera to take videos of us."
Ironically, these Otawara residents had completely ignored the fact that they were the ones who were spying on AUM followers and harassing them. How can anyone be expected to be courteous in such a situation? In my opinion, it is not just the anti-AUM movement in Otawara that is being orchestrated by the government, because televised coverage of anti-AUM campaigns in other prefectures show that they are very similar.
Is the Media Under the Control of the PSIA?
AUM Shinrikyo was dissolved as a religious corporation in 1995, and the following year its headquarters facilities at the base of Mount Fuji were confiscated. As a result, the members were dispersed into small, scattered groups across the country. The group claims to have a total of approximately five hundred monks and nuns and one thousand lay practitioners.
In February of 1999, the national media began to report that a resurgence of AUM activity was causing trouble with local residents in various locations. Ostensibly in response to this situation, the National Police Agency and the Public Security Investigation Agency (PSIA) began organizing anti-AUM campaigns. The timing coincided with the government's attempts to pass certain controversial legislation in the National Assembly.
Prior to the outbreak of the trouble in Otawara, the residency applications of 23 AUM followers in Sanwa in the Ibaraki Prefecture had been rejected by that city's authorities. Consequently, the mayor of Otawara was quoted as saying that, although he was aware that the action was unlawful, Otawara city officials also would reject AUM members' notifications that they were moving to Otawara.
The news of the AUM members' notification that they were moving into a new residence in Otawara was scooped by Shimotsuke Shinbun, the town's local newspaper. The inflammatory front page headline read: "AUM Establishes Foothold in Otawara." This article was reinforced, in the general news pages of the paper, by others with equally alarming headlines like: "Residents Stand Up to Fight;" "Resident Anger and Fear Result in Emergency Meeting of Ward Heads;" "Why Otawara?" and "AUM's Sudden Appearance Shocks Residents." Mr. Yoshiyuki Kohno, who for eight months was treated by the police and the media as the perpetrator of the 1994 Matsumoto sarin gassing incident, commented to me: "During the last war, all of the newspapers must have been like this."
AUM Shinrikyo as a group has done nothing unlawful since it was raided in March of 1995. Ordered to formally dissolve as a religious corporation, it is now a private organization, neither controlled nor protected by law. A strict surveillance of its followers has been maintained by both the NPA and the PSIA, and their arrests on petty charges and separate charges are everyday occurrences. They are arrested, for example, on a charge of trespassing in a private residence if they try to distribute their leaflets in the mailboxes of an apartment building. Or they are arrested if their actual addresses are found to be different from those recorded on their residency certificates.
When I interviewed Mr. Kohno in July, he observed that if Japan is indeed a country ruled by law, then that law must be applied dispassionately and impartially to all citizens without exception and without discrimination. If this is not the case, it would not be possible for citizens to question or criticize when necessary the actions of the police and the media, the very institutions that were responsible for Mr. Kohno being unjustly blamed for the Matsumoto sarin attack.
"AUM followers are being unfairly arrested because they try to distribute flyers," Mr. Kohno said. "Municipal officials announce that although they are aware that their action is unconstitutional, they will reject AUM's move- in notifications. That this can happen demonstrates that this is not a country ruled by impartial law applied to all citizens, but is in fact a lawless country. On the one hand, the authorities do nothing about powerful organized crime and the gangsters who blatantly engage in illegal activities. On the other hand, because they know that AUM is powerless to resist, they persecute and harass its members for engaging in activities that are legal."
Even though his wife remains in a coma as a result of the Matsumoto sarin gassing and he himself still suffers from the aftereffects of the gas, Mr. Kohno nevertheless affirms: "I want to know who is going to distinguish the AUM followers from ordinary citizens. People scream that AUM should get out, but everyone has the freedom of their own beliefs and their own thoughts. Our law maintains that the courts should pronounce punishment, but as we saw in the Wakayama poisoned curry murder, the public unofficially enacts sanctions against suspects. I believe it is wrong to punish suspects before they have even been tried."
Is AUM Being Used as a Pretext for Erecting a Police State?
The anti-AUM campaign in Otawara has triggered similar movements across the country. More than half the wards in Tokyo, for example, have declared their intent to prohibit the use of public facilities by AUM followers. Municipalities and local assemblies have requested that the national government draft AUM-specific legislation and add amendments to the Anti-subversive Activities Law.
It seems evident that, with municipalities formally refusing to allow new AUM followers to move in and attempting to force those already in residence to leave, and now with their added request for AUM-specific legislation, the official goal is to make it impossible for AUM followers to practice their faith indeed to eliminate AUM Shinrikyo altogether as a viable religion in Japan.
This has been made possible because the media and the PSIA successfully incited an anti-AUM movement among the general public that has culminated in the demand for anti-AUM measures. The government is now citing this public demand as justification for creating AUM-specific legislation.
On September 8, 1999, the press reported on an announcement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka that the government was preparing a bill for submission to a special session of the Diet to be held later in the fall. Originally this bill was intended to expand the Anti-subversive Activities Law to cover cult groups as well as political organizations. In the process of forming a coalition consisting of the LDP, the Liberal Party, and the New Komeito, however, the New Komeito rejected the idea of amending the existing law. As a result, the government is now aiming at drafting new legislation specifically against AUM. This law draft has passed the House of Representatives in November.
Although details are still unclear as to the substance of this new law, it has been reported that its target is a group "that has committed indiscriminate mass murder in the past and yet remains basically unchanged." Obviously, this is AUM Shinrikyo. The new law will allow both surveillance and regulation of activities of targeted groups, including groups whose activities are so inoffensive that it would not ordinarily be considered necessary to dissolve them.
The PSIA, once at the top of a list of several government offices scheduled for closing, has been resurrected in the wake of the AUM incidents of recent years. In 1996, it requested that AUM be formally outlawed under the Anti-subversive Activities Law, but that request was denied by the Public Security Examination Commission in January 1997. Indeed, this extra- ministerial board of the Ministry of Justice focused attention again on the possibility of discontinuing the PSIA. To insure its survival, the agency was instrumental in manipulating the media into inciting a public outcry against a supposedly resurgent AUM, ultimately resulting in the current demands for anti-AUM legislation.
If this new legislation is passed by the Diet, the PSIA will enlarge both its organization and its breadth of operation, with powers of surveillance over religious organizations, civil rights groups, and other similar entities. Under the current law, PSIA officials are only allowed to accompany law enforcement authorities on raids on suspect groups, and are not authorized to carry out their own raids independently of law enforcement.
It is imperative to keep in mind that the passage of this new law will follow the relatively recent passage of the Organized Crime Counter- measures Law. Considered together, these two new laws represent a fundamental change in how the legal principles concerning crime and the charging with and prosecution of a crime will be defined in the Constitution, in criminal law, and in the Criminal Procedural Code. With the passage of these two laws, the emphasis will shift from consideration on an individual basis to consideration on a group basis. These laws, supposedly passed to strengthen police powers in order to preserve public order, will, in effect, allow the central government to transform Japan into a police state.
Intent on strengthening its control of citizens through control of the groups to which they might belong, the government first enacted the anti- organized crime law a law the public was reluctant to oppose. Encounter- ing little public opposition to this, they have now, under the continued guise of preserving peace and order, drafted the proposed anti-AUM legislation.
In the meantime, the media continues to release sensationalistic AUM- related information fed to them by the police and the PSIA, and designed to incite further anti-AUM sentiment among the public. For example, on July 29, 1999, Asahi Shinbun included the following in a story: "It (AUM Shinrikyo) has approximately 2,100 followers in forty major locations across the country....There are about forty businesses associated with AUM Shinrikyo, including computer-related companies that grossed seven billion yen in 1998." On September 29, in a similar story, Asahi Shinbun related that "Recently AUM Shinrikyo has established a number of footholds across the country and is consolidating its strength. This is causing distress in those municipalities where it has located, with the result that some of these municipalities have rejected AUM followers' residency applications."
To counteract this negative and incendiary publicity, AUM Shinrikyo, as a private corporation, has published a small book entitled The Present Situation of AUM Shinrikyo and the Problems it Faces. The book explains that AUM followers are only looking for places where they can reside in peace and pursue their religious way of life. The media, however, rarely gives AUM followers the chance to make their voices heard in their own defense.
We Cannot Fight for AUM?
The Liaison Committee on Human Rights and Mass Media Conduct held a conference September 13-15, 1999 in Tokyo and Utsunomiya to discuss AUM-related issues. At the meeting in Shinjuku on the 14th, a representative of the Committee to Abolish the Anti-subversive Activities Law stated: "I share with others here the concerns about basic civil liberties that are raised by a question such as 'Do AUM followers have human rights?' At the same time, I am bothered by the fact that AUM followers as a group have not shown remorse or taken responsibility for the crimes they have committed. For this reason I cannot wholeheartedly support the movement in opposition to the anti-AUM legislation."
More than a few people at the conference concurred with this sentiment, saying they find it difficult to sympathize with the plight of the AUM followers because they have not taken responsibility nor apologized for the crimes of which AUM has been accused. These people accept completely and uncritically what they have read in the media concerning AUM. Ironically, when it comes to the suppression of neo-leftists or to the problems related to nuclear electric power plants, they question the media coverage and call it "neo-bourgeois." Yet concerning AUM coverage by the media, these same people say it is unfair or exaggerated to claim the media distorts or manipulates the facts. Some representatives of the media, for example, have said that in some AUM trials guilty verdicts were handed down, while others reported that in those same cases the accused admitted their crimes.
Leftists in charge of anti-establishment movements in Japan have labeled AUM followers as fascists because, they say, those followers have committed terrorist acts against human beings. Again, they have accepted without question the information the police and the media have released. I asked them, "When did your political group decide that AUM members were fascists? Was it before or after 6:00 a.m. on March 22, 1995, when the police initially raided AUM?" They would not answer me, because they know that the answer is that they began to view AUM negatively only after the police raids began. AUM's teachings and practices have not changed since that date in 1995, but the way AUM is perceived by others has changed.
Without question, a series of atrocious incidents took place. More than four hundred AUM followers were arrested, and approximately one hundred of them were indicted and are being tried. Some have already been found guilty. But by now, the media-fabricated version that AUM founder Shoko Asahara ordered his followers to commit all of these crimes and that the doctrines and teachings of AUM Shinrikyo were a factor in these crimes being committed has become widely and unquestioningly accepted as the truth. In reality, whether this is in fact the true version of events has yet to be demonstrated. To find out, we must wait for the results of Mr. Asahara's trial.
When the PSIA requested that the Anti-subversive Activities Law be used to outlaw AUM Shinrikyo, I was elected as one of five members of an observer group to attend the hearings. I attended all of the sessions, and was present on January 31, 1997 when the Public Security Examination Commission rejected the request.
Conservative politicians and various media representatives who are under the government's thumb have recently argued that those intellectuals who opposed the use of the Anti-subversive Activities Law against AUM Shinrikyo should be held responsible for its resurgence. Obviously this does not make sense, since those who made this unanimous decision, the members of the Public Security Examination Commission, had been appointed by the Prime Minister and approved by the Diet. Unfortunately, the law was not at that point abolished and the PSIA disbanded, as it properly should have been.
Mr. Kohno, the victim of the 1994 Matsumoto sarin nerve gas attack, has given us an effective lesson on human rights. In our opposition to the new anti-AUM law, we must make the issue of human rights the unequivocal foundation for our stance, just as we did when we opposed the Anti- subversive Activities Law. By this I mean that crime and the devising of deterrents to crime must be considered in the context of society as a whole; the effects of efforts to punish or deter crime on the rights of the members of our society must be considered seriously. Of equal importance, it is imperative that the government never has the right to judge or regulate the religious thoughts or beliefs of any suspects.
The other day I met a friend of mine, a television journalist, who had just returned to Japan after a lengthy absence in the United States. He said, "I am frightened of Japanese who are yelling hysterically about being scared of AUM. It seems pretty dangerous to me for the whole country to be heading in such a totalitarian direction." But another situation frightens me even more. We are faced today with a new law that denies the post-World War II legal system and attempts to regulate and control the very thoughts and beliefs of a group, yet the leaders of civil and human rights groups state that they will not oppose this law because AUM has not yet apologized. They fiddle, Rome burns.
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CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors
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