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Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies

"Children of Aum's disciples caught in crossfire"

by Hiroshi Ishida Daisuke Nakai ("Asahi Shimbun," October 4, 2000)

Public hatred for the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect dies hard. The latest symbol of this is the fact that the children of one of its key leaders have been prevented from attending school, even though formal education is guaranteed by the Constitution.
The children are those of Chizuo Matsumoto, 43, currently on trial for murder: he is accused of being the mastermind behind a number of murders linked to the sect. Four of his children live with three women in a two-story house, part of a complex in the city of Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture. Three of the children are elementary school students-two boys, aged 6 and 7; and a girl, 11.
On the morning of Sept. 1, when a nearby elementary school was filling up with pupils returning for the start of second semester, three men in business suits stood like sentinels outside the house, wearing armbands emblazoned with the slogan: ``Down with Aum.''
They were there to stop the three Aum children from going to school.
A dozen wary schoolchildren in the neighborhood took a detour around the house, instead of their usual route which passes right by it.
The 11-year-old girl has moved home four times since leaving the cult's central commune in the village of Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1995 after her father's arrest.
She has since managed to attend school for just two semesters because of objections from residents and local authorities.
Aum Shinrikyo was stripped of its legal status as a religious organization following the 1995 sarin gassing of Tokyo subways and other acts of indiscriminate terrorism.
It was also declared bankrupt. It later renamed itself Aleph and presented itself as a volunteer entity, but society continues to shun its adult members and their children.
A blockade
Since the start of the new semester, the trio have undertaken their own study program at home. They rarely go out, for fear of encountering trouble.
On the opening day of the new term, a dozen parents blockaded the school gates to prevent Matsumoto's children from attending the ceremony.
``If they come to school here, we will move all our children to other schools,'' said one determined-looking parent who declined to be identified.
On Aug. 27, about 1,500 residents surrounded the house, demanding the children leave the neighborhood. ``Out with Aum,'' one shouted. ``You devils have no human rights,'' yelled another.
Just over a month earlier, on July 20, the children had left their previous home, in a dwelling occupied by the cult in the city of Otawara, in neighboring Tochigi Prefecture.
Next day, Ryugasaki City Hall announced it would not permit them to move into the municipality or attend school there.
In August last year, City Hall decided to refuse any applications for resident registration made by or on behalf of Aum followers. Children are prohibited from attending school in the city unless they are registered with the municipal office.
Council offices across the country began refusing entry applications from Aum cultists in the spring of last year.
Last spring in the Saitama Prefecture village of Tokigawa, children of the defendant Matsumoto and of his former aides became the first to be denied formal schooling due to such action. Minister at a loss
According to the sect, resident registration has been denied by village, town and city halls in at least 10 prefectures. As of last month, the fate of about 70 applications remained undecided.
A flurry of refusals in May followed the move of sect leader Tatsuko Muraoka to the city of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture. Other official bodies in the vicinity quickly copied the municipality's lead, announcing that Aum members and their children would be barred from premises they controlled.
Education Minister Tadamori Oshima, 53, referring to Ryugasaki at a news conference Aug. 25, said: ``The bottom line is that the right to education must be fully respected.''
But he added: ``It is essential that residents' anxieties be removed. I hope the people concerned will make efforts aimed at bringing about a dialogue.'' He did not propose any specific step toward that end.
Anxiety is certainly a common thread running through the anti-Aum boycotts instigated by Ryugasaki City Hall and local residents. But any move toward ``dialogue'' seems to be going nowhere.
A former female Aum follower who is one of the women now living with Matsumoto's children in Ryugasaki said: ``I want them (residents) to come and look around my home and see how we live. We're not out to cause any trouble.''
Earlier last month, she sent a letter to the mayor, Takehisa Kushida, and a representative of the protesting residents, offering to talk things over. But the citizens rejected her request on the ground that dialogue would be tantamount to recognizing the right of residence.
Mayor Kushida said: ``Residents still remember what Aum did in the past. I don't know of anything I could say to change their minds.''
He explained the dilemma this way: ``There is a very wide gap between principle and reality. I think local government leaders across the country are keeping their fingers crossed that (Aum people) don't come to live in their communities.''
The right to education is spelled out not only in the Constitution but in the Education Basic Law as well. Yet municipal bodies and residents continue to reject Aum children, not just adult followers of the cult and their associates.
Despite such firmness, some Ryugasaki residents-while standing foursquare against Aum itself -acknowledge privately that barring Aum children from school attendance violates the Constitution and is discriminatory.
An unidentified woman who took part in an anti-Aum demonstration along with her children said: ``I can't forgive Aum. I can't abide them. But as a parent I want to set an example for my own children.
``But then I have to get along with other residents, too. If they (Aum cultists) hadn't come here, I wouldn't have to demonstrate like this.''
A man in his 60s spoke in the same vein: ``I wish they weren't here. There is no way he should be forgiven the sarin attack and the killing'' of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.
``It is a pity that his children are getting blamed for what he did. They did nothing wrong.''
A test case
In Otawara, Matsumoto's children were allowed to attend school temporarily, on condition they left town after a set ``grace period.''
The arrangement had been brokered by the cult's bankruptcy administrator, Saburo Abe. At the time, Mayor Kazuo Chiho endorsed the deal, saying: ``We want to make it a test case of how to maintain a goodwill relationship between our community and the sect.''
No particular problems presented themselves during the semester that the children attended school there. ``My oldest child taught me a lesson,'' one parent said anonymously. ``When I called them Aum kids, my child snapped: `You ought to call them Matsumoto-san.'''
Ikuko Sato, principal of the elementary school where Matsumoto's children attended classes, said: ``If anyone asked me, I'd say they were quite fit to live with other people.''
Matsumoto's children themselves seem to have fond memories of Otawara. ``I want to go to school because I think it's important,'' his 11-year-old daughter wrote in a recent essay.
``Home is not a good place to study subjects such as physical education, music and homemaking. And school is the best place to make friends.'' `I'll go, even they...'
Supporters say her attitude to school changed after she and her siblings came to Otawara. When barred from school in Asahi village, Ibaraki Prefecture, she responded by saying she didn't want she didn't want to go to school anymore. Now she says: ``I'll go even if they harass me.''
But many in Ryugasaki consider the ``Otawara experiment'' a resounding failure.
``It just perpetuated the problem,'' said one of the protesters who preferred not to be named. ``We could put up with it if it's only for three months or so.''
Citizens petitioned Ibaraki's prefectural government to separate the children from the former cult members living with them and educate the children at a welfare institution. This request was formally rejected.
Meanwhile, the City of Niiza, Saitama Prefecture-in a notable departure from the national boycott of Aum disciples and their children-has adopted a new policy that states residence applications will be rejected only when they are framed with the purpose of converting particular premises into a communal dwelling.
Tetsuo Shimomura, a Waseda University professor of education, supports the policy change, saying: ``Even if children are not registered as Ryugasaki residents, the board of education there should permit them to attend school on an interim basis.
``Residents' feelings (against admission) are understandable, but there is no reason to reject them on the basis of fear. There is no reason, either, to reject children who have completed their first semester. Niiza's decision represents a reasonable judgment.''
Koichi Yokota, who lectures on the Constitution at Kyushu University, takes a similar view. ``Residents' unease is understandable, considering what the sect did and its generally irresponsible stance,'' he said.
``However, residence and education are basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution. So it is wrong to reject applications on grounds of generalized anxiety. This is particularly true where children are affected.
``Communal living could have repercussions for public welfare, but so long as they are living as individual families there should be no problem. The City of Niiza's response appears to be a compromise between community fears and the right of residence.''

"Court to drop AUM drug charges"

("Mainichi Shimbun," October 4, 2000)

In a rare move, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office has decided to drop four drug-related charges against AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto to hasten his sentencing, it has been learned. Four charges that Matsumoto, who is also known as Shoko Asahara, was involved in the illegal manufacture of amphetamines, mescaline, thiopental and LSD, will likely be dropped in mid-October, prosecution sources said.
Prosecutors said they took into consideration the feelings of victims of the cult's illegal activities when making the decision, which is expected to hasten Matsumoto's sentencing by about six months.
They added that the dropping of the charges would not likely affect Asahara's final sentencing, as no one was victimized as a result of the manufacture of the drugs.
Since Matsumoto's first trial in April 1996, the court has held 169 public hearings on charges involving the former guru, but procedures have been started on only 12 of the 17 charges against him. Prosecutors said dropping the charges, which is expected to be formally announced in the Tokyo District Court next week, was in response to victim's requests for a swift trial.
"With regard to the shortening of the trial, this means we 'will do what we should do,' " a senior prosecutor said on condition of anonymity. "The rest is up to defending lawyers." Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died following AUM Shinrikyo's sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway systems in 1995, said she was relieved at the decision.
"I had requested that prosecutors withdraw charges so that the trials would quickly finish," she said.
"I think this has come too late, but I'm .
relieved"For the sake of the people who still believe in the doctrines of the cult, which has changed its name to Aleph, I think what Matsumoto did needs to be made clear quickly through a ruling," she said.
A spokesman for Matsumoto's legal team said he had mixed feelings about the withdrawal of the charges.
"As a generalization, this means the defendant's criminal responsibility has been lessened, so as a lawyer, I am pleased. However, even if the four charges are called off, because they carry only light penalties it will have little effect on the sentencing of Matsumoto as a whole.
"We have heard claims that defending lawyers are prolonging trial proceedings, but in a state where we have no communication of ideas with the defendant, it is unavoidable that questioning is protracted," he said.
In a Mainichi Shimbun poll of victims of the cult's activities that was taken in March, 16 of the 62 respondents said they wanted some of the charges against Matsumoto dropped, while 28 said they wanted hearings on all of the incidents.
Almost all of the respondents, however, said they wanted the trials to proceed more quickly.
The 12th charge against Matsumoto, involving the cult's alleged production of automatic assault rifles, began in July this year. Several other trials against AUM members, including those involved in the gas attacks that killed 12 people and injured thousands, were completed in June and July, with sentences including death and life imprisonment being handed down.

"4 charges against AUM guru dropped to speed up trial"

(Kyodo News Service, October 4, 2000)

TOKYO - Prosecutors on Wednesday notified the Tokyo District Court that they have dropped four of the 17 charges against AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara in order to speed up his trial.
The charges withdrawn by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office relate to Asahara's suspected involvement in the illegal manufacture of amphetamines, mescaline, thiopental and LSD.
The court has yet to begin proceedings against Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on the four charges.
Officials of the prosecutors' office said there were no victims involved in the alleged drug manufacture and that withdrawal of the four charges will not affect the severity of the punishment they expect Asahara to eventually receive.
It is rare for prosecutors to drop charges in order to speed up a trial, the officials said.
Charges related to the drug production case were also dropped for former senior AUM members Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya, who still face charges related to their suspected involvement in the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subways.
The court is expected shortly to approve withdrawal of the drug production charges, meaning Asahara's trial will be shortened by several months, legal sources said.
In December 1997, prosecutors cut the number of victims named in the indictment of Asahara over the Tokyo sarin gas attack from some 4,000 to 18, also to speed up his trial.
Koichi Ueda of the Tokyo prosecutors said, ''We have done the best to speed up the pace of the trial and dropping some charges is the best way to realize the goal.''
Asahara's trial opened in April 1996 but has yet to reach the halfway stage, at which the defense starts putting its case. There have been 169 hearings so far.
Prosecutors are to start addressing the 13th charge, relating to the alleged mass production of sarin gas, on Friday.

"Prosecutors to drop 4 charges against AUM founder Asahara"

(Kyodo News Service, October 3, 2000)

TOKYO - Tokyo prosecutors plan to drop four of the 17 charges against AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara in a bid to speed up the pace of his ongoing trials, prosecution sources said Tuesday.
The sources believe the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office will notify the Tokyo District Court of the plan next week.
The court has yet to begin proceedings on the four cases in which Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is accused of involvement in the illegal manufacture of amphetamines, mescaline, thiopental and LSD.
The prosecutors decided to withdraw the four indictments to speed up trials because hearings on them would not have a significant effect on Asahara's final sentencing. No one was killed in the cases, the sources added.
The cancellation of the hearings for the four cases would shorten his entire trial period by several months.
The court has so far held 169 public hearings in connection with Asahara's involvement in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system, the murder of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family and the 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.
The Asahara trials have dragged on for four and a half years since his first hearing in April 1996.
The court in July began hearings on the cult's alleged production of automatic rifles, the 12th charge against him.
Various AUM followers have been found guilty of or are still on trial for numerous crimes including the subway gassing, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

"Some charges dropped against doomsday cult guru"

by Elisabeth Duke ("UK-Independent," October 3, 2000)

Some of the 17 criminal charges against the founder of the domesday cult that killed 12 people and injured thousands in a 1995 Tokyo subway gassing, are to be dropped by prosecutors in a bid to shorten his trial.
The case of guru Shoko Asahara, accused of masterminding the subway attack and 16 other crimes, has dragged on for four and half years, with court proceedings taking place on only 12 of the cases.
The Tokyo District Prosecutors' Office plans to drop the other four criminal charges, which involved illegal drug production but no casualties, according to the Yomiuri newspaper.
Prosecutors believe that would have little effect on the final ruling and could reduce the trial time by several months, the report said.
The Kyodo News agency said that prosecutors plan to notify the court about its decision as early as next week. The prosecutors and the Tokyo District Court refused to confirm the news reports.
In Japan, trials are notoriously lengthy, in part because of a shortage of judges and lawyers. From the beginning, experts have warned that Asahara's trial could take up to a decade at the district court level alone, followed by another 10 years of appeals.
Since Asahara's trial began in April 1996, the court has held nearly 170 public hearings in the subway gassing and the 11 other crimes, including the murder of an anti–cult lawyer and his family and another nerve gas attack in central Japan in 1994.
Several top cultists have been sentenced to death in the 1995 subway gassing and in other crimes.

"4 charges to be dropped to hasten Matsumoto's trial"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," October 3, 2000)

The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office is planning to drop four of 17 charges against Aum Supreme Truth cult founder and former guru Chizuo Matsumoto, 45, to speed up his trial, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.
According to sources, the prosecutors are likely to drop charges in mid-October that Matsumoto, also known by the assumed name Shoko Asahara, illicitly manufactured four kinds of drugs--amphetamines, the hallucinogens mescaline and LSD, and the barbiturate thiopental.
It is said to be quite unusual for prosecutors to drop chargesonce they have been filed. After considering public opinion and the feelings of Aum victims, however, the prosecutors concluded it would be better to avoid prolonged court hearings by scrapping the four charges for crimes in which no one was victimized, the sources said.
Although 4-1/2 years have passed since Matsumoto's first court hearing was held in April 1996, procedures have been started on only 12 of the 17 charges on which he was indicted.
The Tokyo District Court so far has held a total of 169 hearings on charges involving Matsumoto.
Court procedures already have started in the major charges against him, such as the sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the Tokyo subway system, as well as the murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.
Hearings on the cult's alleged production of assault rifles, the 12th charge against Matsumoto, started in July.
Meanwhile, the first series of trials for seven of Matsumoto's followers were completed in June and July, when the Tokyo District Court handed down sentences, including the death penalty and life in prison with the possibility of parole. Among those to receive the death penalty was Yasuo Hayashi, 42, who released sarin gas in the 1995 attack on the subway system.
The rulings in all of the cases stipulated that Matsumoto was the mastermind behind them.
As for the trial of Matsumoto himself, however, it is still difficult to tell when the prosecutors will finish establishing the facts in the cases, which is viewed as half the battle. The question of when he will be sentenced is even more unpredictable.
Victims of Aum crimes and bereaved family members reportedly have expressed a strong desire to see the entire process sped up.
Therefore, the prosecutors have put priority on establishing facts related to the murder and attempted murder charges including the two sarin gas attacks. Since last spring, however, prosecutors were looking into the possibility of dropping charges for crimes in which nobody was victimized.
As a result, they reached a conclusion that the four drug charges could be dropped for the following reasons:
-- Their scrapping will not affect the assessment of the other charges against Matsumoto.
-- Matsumoto already has been recognized as the mastermind in the cases in which his followers were sentenced.
-- Only two people among those charged with the illicit manufacture of drugs are still on trial at the Tokyo District Court.

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Revised last: 4-10-2000