Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
("Japan Times", January 31, 2000)
The Public Security Examination Commission on Monday announced that it will allow authorities to put Aum Shinrikyo under surveillance for three years, the maximum period the Aum-directed law allows.
The commission's decision will take effect today, and the Public Security Investigation Agency, with the cooperation of the National Police Agency, will begin monitoring the cult as early as Wednesday.
The commission recognized the agency's claim that Aum committed the sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, and on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 with such political reasons as creating "a nation under the sovereignty" of the cult's founder Shoko Asahara, who remains a great influence on the followers.
"Considering the evidence, we came to the conclusion that cult followers still constitute a threat and could commit another indiscriminate mass murder in the future, and its activities should be monitored for a certain amount of time," said Kozo Fujita, chairman of the seven-member commission at a news conference at the Justice Ministry.
The commission also said the alleged abduction of Asahara's eldest son recently by his daughters and other followers was additional evidence that the group has dangerous tendencies, as it came soon after the cult stated it would obey the law and refrain from illegal activities.
"We ask (Aum) to actively cooperate with the surveillance and make its actual condition transparent, because this will help reduce and sweep away the anxiety society has (toward it,)" Fujita said.
Fujita called on the cult to keep its promise to compensate the victims of the heinous crimes committed by its members.
"Society as a whole should also cooperate to protect the human rights of the followers and their children and accept them into society," he said.
Justice Minister Hideo Usui said he appreciated the commission's decision, and that the agency would begin monitoring cult activities.
"I am confident that the surveillance (of Aum) will relieve the anxiety of local communities (where cult members reside)," he said.
As soon as the monitoring begins, Aum must provide information about its members as well as the nature of its activities every three months for the three-year period.
Agency officials will be allowed to enter Aum facilities to carry out further inspections.
The commission will also ask Aum to provide the names and managers of its Web sites, as the cult is believed to be providing information to followers through the Internet.
Although Aum Shinrikyo expressed disappointment over the decision, it said it hopes authorities will respect followers' human rights and that agency inspections will prove Aum is not dangerous.
Meanwhile, Saburo Abe, a court-appointed administrator in charge of liquidating the cult's assets, welcomed the decision, saying that it will make it easier for him to grasp the amount of Aum's assets.
"With the report from Aum and information from agency officials, I am willing to take appropriate steps further to help redress the victims," Abe said in a statement.
On Dec. 27 last year, the Public Security Investigation Agency requested the commission examine whether the cult met the conditions of the new law, designed to tighten control on Aum, on the day it took effect.
The commission, an extraministerial board of the Justice Ministry, started the examination on Jan. 5 and was required to make a decision within 30 days.
The law, enacted in the beginning of December, was drafted after local governments called on the central government asking for a way to deal with increasing friction between local residents and Aum members in various parts of Japan.
The new law does not specifically name Aum but says the purpose of the legislation is to impose control on a group whose members have carried out or attempted indiscriminate mass murder in the past 10 years.
The criteria also stipulate that the group's leader still exerts a strong influence over its members and has the same members as when the crimes were committed.
A targeted group must also have a platform that approves of murder, and have the potential to perform acts that may lead to another indiscriminate mass murder.
In the request presented to the commission, the agency said that the cult met all five conditions and claimed that Aum needs to be placed under supervision because its activities are difficult to grasp.
At the hearing held Jan. 20 by the commission as part of the examination procedure, Aum representatives said the cult, which changed its name to Aleph on Jan. 18, was no longer led by cult founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
They added that the cult had "destroyed" its doctrine that justified the act of murder, and that there is no longer any dangerous element that might lead its members to commit heinous crimes.
However, the agency argued that Asahara still held strong sway over followers and that the recent changes the cult announced were done only to escape the application of the new law.
by Kanako Takahara ("Japan Times", January 31, 2000)
Monday's decision by the Public Security Examination Commission to invoke a law to monitor Aum Shinrikyo will inevitably deal a major blow to the cult -- possibly even leading to its breakup.
According to the law, enacted in December, Aum must submit a list of its current members as well as financial reports of affiliated companies. It also allows Public Security Agency officials to enter Aum's facilities to carry out further inspections.
Authorities hope to be able to determine the flow of money both to and from the cult -- long a keen point of interest for clamping down on the group -- by inspecting the books of firms said to have links to Aum.
"But the fact is, Aum no longer has the power to act as one entity," said Tatsuo Suzuki, who defended the cult when the agency attempted to apply the Antisubversive Activities Law to it in 1996.
In recent weeks, there have been various signs indicating that senior Aum members are in conflict with each other and unable to organize the cult or exert leadership.
Last month, police issued warrants for half a dozen Aum members, including two of cult founder Shoko Asahara's daughters, for allegedly assaulting fellow cultists when they abducted Asahara's eldest son from another facility.
The cult was struck another blow with the arrest of key figure Naruhito Noda, 33, who was in charge of the cult's finances, for threatening a banker when the bank refused to open an account in Aum's new name, Aleph, on the grounds of insufficient documentation.
However, Saturday's announcement by senior cult member Fumihiro Joyu seemed to be an indication that the cult is making efforts to regroup as the surveillance noose tightens.
Joyu said Aum will resume its activities and create new companies from the computer shops that closed at the end of last month in Nagoya and Tokyo's Akihabara district.
The profits from those companies will be used to compensate the victims of the crimes Aum members stand accused of, he said.
Nonetheless, lawyer Suzuki predicted that agency officials will try to use their power to the fullest extent, while cultists are likely to cooperate and offer information so as to avoid giving authorities an excuse to take further steps to corral the cult.
If the commission concludes that Aum interfered with its investigation or is engaged in heinous crimes, Aum will have to give up land and facilities it currently uses for its activities and will be banned from purchasing new sites -- effectively forcing an end to the cult.
Aum leaders express concern that agency officials will abuse their power under the law, since the limit of "inspections" officials may conduct has not been clearly spelled out.
During a hearing last month before the commission, lawyers for the cult argued that the agency should provide guidelines to specify what officials could do and how cult members should cooperate.
However, agency officials only responded by saying that they did not need to do so since the significance of the hearing was to solely grant Aum an opportunity to state its opinion of the law.
Although it may be difficult in the current circumstances, lawyer Takeshi Ono said, he hopes agency officials will not abuse their power and start arresting Aum followers under the new law, which stipulates that cultists may face imprisonment or a fine if they interfere with the investigations.
"With the law's application, many will decide to leave the cult," said Ono, who provides support to former Aum members and their families in the belief that their return to normal society is more constructive than isolating the cultists and placing them under constant surveillance.
"Authorities should leave such cultists alone and give them a chance to come back to society, at least for the time being."
by Shihoko Goto (Associated Press, January 31, 2000)
TOKYO (AP) - A government commission decided Monday to tighten surveillance on the cult behind the deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways after it showed signs of revival.
The Public Security Examination Commission agreed to put Aum Shinri Kyo under strict surveillance for up to three years, a commission spokesman said. The decision will take effect on Tuesday, when the legislation allowing such surveillance is officially published.
The measure will allow the Justice Ministry's Public Security Investigation Agency and the national police to start inspecting the cult's facilities regularly, the spokesman said.
Inspections into five of the 30 principal facilities owned by the cult could start as early as Wednesday. The law will also require the cult to report the names of its members and details of its assets.
In a campaign to overhaul its image, the cult has apologized for the subway gassing and offered on Saturday to pay $1.1 million a year as compensation to the victims.
The group has also changed its name to ``Aleph,'' the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The cult's recent contrition, however, has been met with deep skepticism by the Japanese public. Police say the group earns about $65 million a year from discount computer chain stores.
The cult's leader, Shoko Asahara, is on trial for masterminding the 1995 sarin subway attack, which killed twelve and sickened thousands. He is also on trial in the death of several cult members and a lawyer investigating the cult and his family.
(Associated Press, January 31, 2000)
TOKYO - Under pressure from a government crackdown, the cult accused of a deadly nerve-gas attack on Tokyo subways has offered to pay 120 million yen ($1.12 million) a year as compensation to the victims.
''I don't intend to deny that I bear a heavy responsibility,'' Fumihiro Joyu, one of the cult's leaders, said over the weekend in his first appearance before reporters since his release from prison last month.
Mr. Joyu had been imprisoned since 1997 on perjury charges unrelated to the nerve gas attack.
Tatsuko Muraoka, who replaced Shoko Asahara this month as guru of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, said that several tens of millions of yen would be divided among victims immediately. It was not clear how many people the cult was offering to compensate.
The cult, which announced a change in its name last month, from Aum to Aleph Shinrikyo, also said it would start a personal-computer company and transfer all of the company's profit to a fund for victims.
The statement coincided with a campaign by the cult to soften its image. The government adopted new laws last month that would allow the authorities to monitor the cult more closely and seize its assets more easily. A government panel is preparing to announce in the coming week a decision to apply those laws to Aleph.
Last month, the cult apologized for the first time for the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway with sarin nerve gas, which killed 12 people and made 5,500 people ill.
The cult's recent expressions of contrition have been received with skepticism by the Japanese public, not only because of their timing, but also because the cult has not opened its books.
The police say the cult earns about 7 billion yen a year from its discount computer stores. It also is believed to operate other businesses and to have revenue from followers' donations.
The cult had promised earlier to compensate the victims of the subway attack, but Saturday was the first time it provided figures and some details about the compensation.
While acknowledging Mr. Asahara's involvement in the attack, Mr. Joyu defended the guru's teachings.
''I approve of our exalted teacher Asahara's spiritual practices,'' he said at a news conference in the cult's Yokohama office.
Mr. Joyu, who was never charged in the subway attack, denied knowing about it in advance. But he said he had gone overboard in his desire to defend the cult and had purposely avoided facing up to its guilt.
''I'd like to apologize for that,'' Mr. Joyu said, appearing before the cameras in a business suit instead of the robes that used to be the cult trademark.
Mr. Asahara is on trial on charges of masterminding the subway attack. Cult members have also been charged in the killings of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, the murders of wayward followers and a separate sarin gassing that killed seven people and sickened more than 200 in a residential area in central Japan in 1994.
("Mainichi Shimbun", January 31, 2000)
AUM Shinrikyo is finally compensating its alleged victims in a desperate attempt to dodge being put under surveillance authorized under the new anti-AUM law, public safety officials said Sunday. The claim came as the Public Security Examination Commission is poised to decide Monday on whether to allow authorities to place the cult under surveillance for up to three years.
Tatsuko Muraoka, leader of the cult now calling itself "Aleph," announced at a news conference Saturday that the cult will annually spend 120 million yen in donations from its followers and proceeds of its now dormant personal-computer affiliate to compensate victims of crimes allegedly committed by former cult members.
To finance this, the cult will reopen its personal computer subsidiary that it had closed down, she said at the conference, which was also attended by senior member Fumihiro Joyu.
Muraoka, 49, also said AUM will give tens of millions of yen in cash to the cult's bankruptcy receiver.
Public safety authorities reacted cooly to the announcement.
"During the news conference, [cult leaders] didn't mention how much the computer company made in the past or what profits other subsidiaries that are still in operation are earning," an official of the authorities said. "The cult is apparently trying to avoid being placed under surveillance." Under the new law aimed at cracking down on AUM's activities, the Public Security Examination Commission is responsible for determining whether the cult still poses a danger to the public and if surveillance is necessary.
If approval is given, the Justice Ministry's Public Security Investigation Agency and the police will start inspecting AUM facilities from Thursday, public safety officials said.
The cult will be required to report the names of its members and details of their assets to authorities.
In its written decision to place the cult under surveillance, the commission will warn the agency and police to exercise caution when inspecting the cult's facilities to avoid infringing on members' human rights.
AUM has come back into the public spotlight after six cultists allegedly abducted the elder son of cult founder Shoko Asahara.
Three of the suspected abductors were arrested and the boy was rescuedunhurt at an inn in Kanagawa Prefecture on Jan. 23.
by Scott Stoddard (Associated Press, January 30, 2000)
T O K Y O, Japan, Jan. 29 - As part of its campaign to clean up its image, the cult accused in the 1995 nerve-gas attack on Tokyo subways offered to pay a total of $1.14 million a year as compensation to the victims. Tatsuko Muraoka, who replaced Shoko Asahara as guru of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult this month, said several tens of thousands of dollars will be paid to the victims immediately. "I don't intend to deny that I bear a heavy responsibility," said Fumihiro Joyu, one of the cult's leaders, appearing before reporters for the first time since his release from prison last month. It was not immediately clear how many people the cult was offering to compensate.
Computer Proceeds for Victims
Aum, which recently changed its name to Aleph, also said it will start a personal computer company and transfer all proceeds into a victims fund. The announcement comes as Aum tries to soften its image. Tokyo toughened its laws last month to let authorities seize Aum's assets more easily and monitor the cult more closely. A government panel is preparing to announce in the coming week what affect the decision will have on Aum.
Last month, the cult apologized for the subway gassing that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 people - something it had refused to do for the last five years. The cult's recent expressions of contrition, however, have been received with deep skepticism by the Japanese public not only because of its timing but also because the cult has not opened its books. Police say it earns about $66 million a year from its discount computer chain stores. The cult is believed to operate other businesses and have revenue from followers' donations. It can also sell its assets. Aum had promised to compensate the victims, but Saturday's announcement was the first time it gave figures and some details on the compensation.
Defending the Guru
Joyu, who acknowledged Asahara's involvement in the gassing, defended Asahara's teachings. "I approve of our exalted teacher Asahara's spiritual practices," Joyu told reporters at the cult's Yokohama office. Joyu, who was never charged in the subway gassing, denied knowing about the attack in advance but said he had been overexuberant in defending the cult and denying its guilt. "I'd like to apologize for that," Joyu said, appearing before the cameras in a conservative suit instead of the loose robes that used to be the cult trademark. Asahara is on trial on charges of masterminding the sarin gassing. Cult members have also been charged in the slaying of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, the murders of wayward followers and a separate sarin gassing that killed seven people and sickened more than 200 in a residential area in central Japan in 1994. Most of the victims have received only a portion of the damages set by the Japanese courts. Only 1,136 people have come forward to claim compensation, partly because of fears they may lose their jobs if people find out they are sarin victims.
(Reuters, January 30, 2000)
The Japanese doomsday cult which released deadly nerve gas on the Tokyo subway system has said it will go back to work to pay compensation for its victims.
Fumihiro Joyu, a senior member of the group, Aum Shinri Kyo, said millions of dollars, made through the cult's computer activities, would be turned over to a court-appointed administrator.
The cult, held responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000, has recently been trying to improve its image.
A spokesman for the group said it would pay $1.1 million a year to its victims. Police say it earns about $66m a year from its discount computer chain stores.
As well as changing its name to "Aleph" (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) - the cult 's newly appointed leader Tatsuko Muraoka insisted that it group no longer poses any danger to the public.
On Monday, Japan's Public Security Examination Commission will decide whether to place the group under surveillance for up to three years.
Cult guru Shoko Asahara (on PC screen above), already serving time for masterminding the gassing plot, has now been implicated by his followers in taking part in the scheme.
Twice this month members of the cult have been implicated in crimes. Police charged that six members, including two of Asahara's daughters, kidnapped Asahara's seven-year-old son. The boy was rescued unharmed. In the other incident, police arrested top cult member Naruhito Noda on suspicion of threatening bank staff.
(Agence France Presse, January 30, 2000)
TOKYO, Jan 30 (AFP) - Japan will announce a decision Monday to put the Aum Supreme Truth cult under surveillance as part of a new law cracking down on the sect responsible for a lethal 1995 subway gas attack, news reports said.
The Public Security Commission will hold a meeting Monday afternoon and allow police to place the doomsday cult, now called Aleph, under observation starting February 2 for three years, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said Sunday.
The newspaper said the decision came after commission members unanimously affirmed: "The danger of the sect cannot be denied, and it is necessary to observe its activity continuously." The commission has discussed the measure since anti-Aum legislation took effect on December 27.
Aum cult members killed 12 people and injured thousands when they spread Nazi-invented Sarin gas in Tokyo's subway in March 1995. Fourteen Aum members, including cult leader Shoko Asahara, are on trial for the subway attack.
The cult escaped being outlawed under the Subversive Activities Prevention Act in January 1997 when a legal panel ruled there was no reason to believe it could still pose a threat to society.
But parliament curbed its activities in early December amid fears the sect had improved its finances with computer sales and was recruiting more followers to add to its claimed 1,500-strong membership.
The law sets curbs on any organisation which has committed "indiscriminate mass murder" in acquiring land or facilities.
Once it is approved, police will have the power to raid sect properties without a warrant and demand disclosure of its activities, including its finances.
Asahara, 44, is accused of masterminding and ordering the subway massacre to avenge a police crackdown on his cult. He faces a total of 17 criminal charges.
On Saturday, the cult vowed to compensate victims of its crimes with cash from a new computer business.
The business would pay 10 million yen (95,000 dollars) a month in compensation to victims, sect spokesman Fumihiro Joyu said.
In addition, the bankrupt sect would soon make a payment of several tens of millions of yen to administrators for payment to victims, he said.
"I believe returning profit to society will also benefit Aum," said the cult spokesman, released last month after serving a three-year jail sentence for perjury.
The sect closed down its three computer shops, believed to be major sources of funding, ahead of an expected crackdown.
(Associated Press, January 30, 2000)
YOKOHAMA: Since his release from prison a month ago, Fumihiro Joyu has cast a very different image from that of the strident spokesman he once was for the doomsday cult accused in the 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways.
Trading his religious garb for a suit and tie, Joyu and other cult members have embarked on a campaign of apologies, vows of reform and statements distancing themselves from the guru they once worshipped as a living god.
So far, they are generating more fear than sympathy.
Authorities see the cult's claims of contrition as an attempt to get around laws passed last month that strengthen the government's hand in seizing cult assets and monitoring its activities.
And as further evidence all is not well, police are still trying to unravel the bizarre kidnapping earlier this month of Asahara's eldest son _ possibly indicating a power struggle within the cult.
Though the cult has never stopped functioning, Joyu's return has heightened worries of a resurgence.
Eloquent and charismatic, Joyu, 37, was one of the cult's most high-profile members at the time of the 1995 subway attack. He was never charged in the gassing, but served a three-year prison sentence for a cult-related forgery.
With the cult's other leaders still in prison or on trial, Joyu appears to be filling the leadership vacuum. He has denied taking over the helm, but shortly after his release, he announced a need for ``fundamental reform''.
That included removing Asahara as guru. While insisting that Asahara was spiritually ``a genius'', Joyu said the old leadership, including Asahara, was responsible for the gassing.
Prosecutors say Asahara ordered cult followers to poke holes in plastic bags filled with lethal sarin gas, spreading the poison and sending commuters into convulsions. A dozen people died and thousands were sickened.
The attack was intended to set off a chain of events leading to Armageddon, and followers justified their actions by asserting that the cult had the right to kill those it deemed unenlightened.
Though a shadow of its former self _ the cult now has about 2,000 members in Japan, down from the 10,000 it claimed before the attack _ it has been regaining strength.
Police say it also has a solid financial base, earning about US$66 million (HK$512.82 million) a year from a chain of discount computer shops.
That prompted new legislation requiring the cult to report its activities every three months and allowing inspections of its facilities without warrants.
A government panel is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether the cult continues to pose enough of a danger to be subjected to such laws.
To prove it is not a threat, the cult has promised to compensate victims of the subway gas attack.
And to further bolster the argument it is now a different group than it was five years ago, it has even changed its name _ from Aum Shinri Kyo to Aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
But the cult's position has been seriously undermined by police reports that some members are suspected in the 21 January kidnapping of Asahara's seven-year-old son. The boy has since been found and is in state custody. His mother has been convicted of murdering a cult member and is in prison.
The cult has officially replaced Asahara with Tatsuko Muraoka, but she is largely seen as a figurehead.
Instead, the cult's leadership is believed to centre around Joyu, Asahara's children and senior officials.
(Associated Press, January 30, 2000)
Key events in the history of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, accused in the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways:
-July 1987: Aum Shinri Kyo is founded by guru Shoko Asahara.
-November 1989: Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer leading a legal crusade against Aum, is kidnapped with his wife and baby. Their bodies are later found buried in the mountains.
-June 1994: Seven people are killed and more than 200 are sickened by nerve gas in a residential area in Matsumoto, central Japan.
-February 1995: Kiyoshi Kariya, a Tokyo notary public who is trying to persuade his sister to leave Aum, is abducted and later dies.
-March 1995: Sarin spreads through Tokyo's subways during morning rush hour, killing 12 and sickening about 5,500. The head of the National Police Agency is shot and seriously wounded.
-April 1995: Hideo Murai, a top cult official, is fatally stabbed by a suspected gangster before a crowd of reporters and police.
-May 1995: Asahara is arrested. A letter bomb explodes in Tokyo City Hall, seriously injuring the governor's aide.
-April 1996: Asahara's trial opens in Tokyo District Court.
-October 1998: Cult official Kazuaki Okazaki is convicted of killing the Sakamoto family and a cult member who had tried to quit the group. Okazaki is sentenced to death.
-December 1999: Parliament passes laws designed to rein in Aum. Fumihiro Joyu, a cult leader who was not charged in the subway gassing, is released from prison.
-January 2000: Cult changes its name to Aleph.
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