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Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies

"Children of Asahara forced to pay for guru's alleged crimes"

by Hiroshi Matsubara ("Japan Times," December 30, 2000)

RYUGASAKI, Ibaraki Pref. -- Watching them play on the floor amid scattered toys and books, it's hard to believe that these two boys were once hailed by thousands of Aum Shinrikyo members as holy children and heirs to their guru's legacy.
When asked to settle down, the boys, ages 6 and 7, run up the stairs as though their excessive energy will not allow them to sit still; circumstances do not allow them to venture outside often.
Since the arrest of Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, in May 1995 on suspicion of masterminding a series of heinous crimes, his children -- four daughters and two sons aged from 6 to 22 -- have been paying the price for their father's alleged crimes.
They've been forced to change residences at least six times in the past five years, often on sudden notice. Since July, when they moved to Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture, under the guardianship of three former Aum members, the three youngest children and their 19-year-old sister have been virtually locked up in their five-bedroom house.
The city, in the first such move by a local government, has rejected the applications of Asahara's two sons and his 11-year-old daughter to register for school. It cites the concerns of local residents, who stage demonstrations outside the family's door.
In an interview with The Japan Times earlier this month, the three children told of how their lives have been disrupted and expressed their desire to be accepted in society.
"I can understand people's anxiety to our presence in their neighborhood or local schools," said the 11-year-old girl, who in the past five years has spent only three semesters in public elementary schools. "But without going to school and making friends, I cannot draw a picture of my future."
The girl said she cannot study well at home without the discipline of teachers and due to the interference of her playful brothers, but her bookshelf was filled with well-worn history and other school textbooks.
"My life has been very confusing, even to myself," she said. "But the days when I attended school every day were the most satisfactory and enjoyable times of my life."
Asahara's youngest son said there were too many things he enjoyed during the one semester he spent at school in Otawara to list. He and his sister were allowed to attend school earlier this year on the condition that they left after a single semester.
"That's a snail (the school's) principal gave me," said the 6-year-old, pointing to a small aquarium on a shelf.
While his siblings related their school memories, Asahara's 7-year-old son -- who was forced to stop attending school in Asahi, Ibaraki Prefecture, after just one day due to local demonstrators -- suddenly appeared to become very sad and dashed up the stairs to the second floor.
The head of the household, a 39-year-old licensed teacher who has taken care of Asahara's children over the past decade, said they have learned to hide their emotional stress in front of strangers.
The children's mother, 42-year-old Tomoko Matsumoto, is in custody awaiting an appeal on a six-year prison sentence upheld by the Tokyo High Court in 1999 for her role in the killing of an errant cultist. Asahara's 22- and 17-year-old daughters live in separate towns and visit their siblings occasionally.
The Ryugasaki house was purchased by two civil activists who support the children, but the city has so far rejected the household's applications to register as residents, following the precedent set by the city of Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, which drove them out of town earlier this year.
Locals have submitted to the city office a petition with around 37,000 signatures demanding that the city maintain its opposition to the household's registration.
Like Otawara, the Ryugasaki Municipal Government has found justification for its actions in the Constitution, which assures the rights of individuals unless they threaten public welfare.
Outside the housing compound, the children's neighbors have organized extensive protests and posted "Against Aum" signs on their doors. In August, more than 1,500 locals gathered in a vacant lot behind the house and chanted "Aum, go away!" and "You devils have no human rights!"
The children's main guardian said the household currently has no financial or personal ties with Aum. She added that the children truly wish to live normal lives as members of society.
She declined, however, to say how they financed their daily living. "We do not tell the media so as to protect the privacy of the children," she explained. "We have reported (on this matter) to the city office."
According to Shingo Yamaguchi, chairman of the local residents' association that has voiced opposition to the children's enrollment at local schools, the association's principal concern is that the children are still tied to Aum and that their presence in Ryugasaki could lead to cultists flocking to the town.
"Only after they have proven that all ties to Aum have been severed should they start attending local schools," he said.
While residents still harbor concerns over the children's presence, they appear ready to seek a solution so that the children's basic human rights are not further infringed upon.
During a local residents' meeting held earlier this month, some 1,000 participants agreed to begin seeking settlement of the issue through talks with Asahara's children and their guardians.
The two sides have met once already at the recommendation of the Mito District Court, where lawyers filed a suit demanding that Ryugasaki accept the children's residency and school registrations.
"I personally wish we could put an end to the children being sent around from one municipality to another, here (in Ryugasaki)," said Yamaguchi, adding that he believes many locals support his view.
The children's guardian said she would cooperate fully with her neighbors to settle the problem.

"Aum ranks' rights compromised by fear"

by Hiroshi Matsubara ("Japan Times," December 30, 2000)

NAGAREYAMA, Chiba Pref. -- As night falls, all the houses in this quiet bedroom community melt into darkness.
Except one.
Lit up like a sightseeing spot, the two-story house in the city's south end is under 24-hour watch -- by local police and Public Security Investigation Agency officials, who have set up a surveillance tent on the property's perimeter, as well as by local residents, who built a watchtower next door.
The neighborhood people know the authorities need no help in their task. Instead, the residents are trying to cause enough discomfort to the six men who occupy the house to make them leave.
The men had earned this kind of scrutiny before moving to Nagareyama in March -- they are members of Aum Shinrikyo, which now calls itself Aleph.
"Whatever they call themselves, Aum is Aum if they worship (guru Shoko) Asahara," said Yorimichi Taguchi, leader of a local residents' association opposing Aum's presence in the community. "I see no difference in them from five years ago and want them out of our community as soon as possible."
Nearly six years after the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured 5,500, public distrust and hatred of Aum Shinrikyo remains strong even as the sect's membership dwindles.
The public security agency, empowered by a year-old law to regulate Aum activities, estimates that in 1994 the religious sect had about 1,000 members living together at Aum facilities, with about 10,000 more participating in its activities. According to a mandatory report submitted by the sect to the agency last month, about 554 members now live at about 50 facilities scattered around the nation and 597 others attend seminars and other events.
While it is believed most current members played no role in the series of heinous crimes attributed to Aum, they still face discrimination by their fellow citizens, the media and even by local governments across the country.
Residents go to extremes
In an attempt to evict Aum members from their communities, residents of a number of municipalities have organized protests, waged poster campaigns calling for their removal and voluntarily monitored Aum residences.
While sympathizing with wary locals, 27-year-old Aum member Kenichi Umehara said he thinks the current anti-Aum sentiment has pushed people to extremes -- especially considering that constant surveillance prevents Aum members from committing the slightest offense.
"If I had not been an Aum (member), I would never have forgiven Aum for its crimes," said Umehara, who lives in the Nagareyama house. "Therefore, I do not expect people to fully respect our human rights anymore. But I still feel it has often gone too far."
Umehara said his parents' address and phone number were leaked by a realtor some time ago and printed in a local community paper without their consent, resulting in numerous harassing phone calls. Neither are members of Aum.
Then, in the summer, a rumor circulated that an Aum member had been seen near the swimming pool of a Nagareyama elementary school. This sparked speculation that the pool had been poisoned with sarin, prompting the city to delay the pool's opening and spend 1 million yen to install a security sensor at its entrance.
In justifying their fierce stance against the sect, residents point out that their campaign is supported by the local government, which has even given them some 4.2 million yen to finance their anti-Aum activities.
The city of Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, set the precedent when it successfully pushed Aum members out in July after a yearlong campaign. Since then, various local governments have rejected Aum members' applications for residency, depriving them of the social benefits, including health insurance, that all other registered residents enjoy.
One Aum member said that the residency registrations of 111 people associated with the sect have been denied by local municipalities, including Yokohama and Tokyo's Setagaya and Adachi wards.
Towns use illegal justice
The Law of the Basic Resident Registers states that local governments mustaccept residency applications from anybody who moves to their municipalities. But Kiyoshi Onuki, an official from Nagareyama, said the city will continue rejecting Aum members' applications until the court orders them to do otherwise.
The six Aum members currently living in Nagareyama managed to rent the house by not telling their landlord, who lives overseas, that they belonged to the sect.
Lawyer Yukio Yamashita, who has publicly expressed his concern that the rights of Aum members have been violated, denounced the discriminatory actions of local municipalities. He said they only reinforce local communities' fears about the cult while allowing existing Aum-related problems to continue.
"The unease of local residents is understandable, but what local governments must do is eliminate concerns about Aum by helping foster trust between its members and locals through discussion," he said. "Instead, they have neglected to take responsibility and turned to illegal measures that are easier (to undertake) and probably appear more proactive to the general public."
Yamashita said the country is no longer a democratic state if the government allows individuals' rights to be restricted based on "public sentiment."
Onuki defended his city's stance: "We believe that our rejection of (Aum members') applications for residency can be justified from the perspective of public welfare, for which the Constitution allows us to limit the scope of individual rights."
Onuki also cited the official views of the central government and judicial authorities.
Earlier this month, Justice Minister Masahiko Komura said Aum remains a threat to society, although 15 on-the-spot inspections of 39 sites related to the sect nationwide since January have uncovered no evidence suggesting another serious crime is in the works.
Komura said Aum's threat to society can be explained by the immense power Asahara continues to wield over sect members, even though he is behind bars and in the midst of a lengthy criminal trial.
Aum member Umehara admitted that he and many other members continue to hold Asahara in esteem.
"I still respect him for what he wrote and spoke, but it does not mean that I can kill someone on his orders," he said.
Umehara said he still struggles over whether he should stay in the sect in light of the crimes it allegedly committed.
"But the Aum doctrine and practice, which were certainly invented by Mr. Asahara, still fascinate me most among existing (belief systems) in the world," he said.
Aum doctrine is based on reincarnation and literally prohibits killing -- even mosquitoes -- to ensure well-being in the next life.
Umehara and other Aum members further rebuffed the allegations voiced by the justice minister by pointing out the public security agency's awareness of how harmless -- even vulnerable -- the cult is now.
"Our financial situation has been very critical due to compensation paid to victims of Aum's crimes, and the number of members living together has been decreasing by around 10 people annually," said Akitoshi Hirosue, chief of Aum's legal affairs section.
He said the sect currently relies on donations from its followers who live outside the communal houses.
"The (public security) agency knows our situation, but it never reports this to the public," he said.
Media witch hunt
Umehara said people allowed Aum to have a voice until the recent wave of ill feelings expressed by local residents and governments.
Soon after he and other Aum members moved to Nagareyama, three neighbors asked to talk with them periodically to foster mutual trust.
"But after three or four meetings, the neighbors were harshly denounced at a town meeting for talking with us, and they no longer say even 'Good morning,' " he said.
Kenichi Asano, professor of journalism at Doshisha University in Kyoto, said the escalating campaigns by local residents owe much to the media, which have only provided one-sided reports emphasizing the apparent danger of Aum.
"The media have played a huge role in stirring up people's anxiety and hatred toward Aum, using sensational headlines that suggest Aum's resurrection, while failing to report the actual state of the group," he said.
But, he added, "The current (wave of) Aum-phobia is largely a creature of the law enforcement authorities, which have pushed the claim that the cult is dangerous in order to have new legislation passed in the Diet that expands their power and size."
He said that public hysteria about Aum allowed the passage of the so-called anti-Aum law and the wiretapping law, which took effect in August.
"In the meantime," he added, "the media have successfully sold their journals or increased viewer ratings by reporting police exaggerations."

"Japan: Nerve-Gas Cult Active Online"

(The Associated Press, December 23, 2000)

TOKYO (AP) - The doomsday cult responsible for a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo subway trains nearly six years ago is reasserting its influence via the Internet, the government warned in a report made public Saturday by Japanese news media.
The Aum Shinri Kyo cult was disbanded in a police crackdown following the March 1995 gassing, which killed 12 rush-hour commuters and left of others thousands sick. Its bearded guru, Shoko Asahara, is on trial for masterminding the attack and other crimes.
But Aum reorganized itself under a new name early this year - and is now trying to transform itself into a ``cybercult,'' the government agency that monitors its activities was quoted as saying by Kyodo News agency and public NHK television.
In a report on national security threats, Japan's Public Security Investigation Agency said that the cult is making active use of the Internet, including its own Web site, to spread its teachings and organize followers.
It has also gone online for financing and has been selling computer hardware and software over the Internet, the agency said.
Agency officials were not available for comment late Saturday.
Now called Aleph, the cult currently has about 1,700 members and is led by Aum's former spokesman.

"AUM becoming 'cyber cult' with Joyu at center: security agency"

(Kyodo News Service, December 23, 2000)

TOKYO - The AUM Shinrikyo religious sect has been trying to transform itself into a ''cyber cult'' with senior member Fumihiro Joyu at its center, the Public Security Investigation Agency said in a report released Saturday.
According to the report, AUM is still under the strong influence of 45-year-old founder Shoko Asahara, who has been detained since May 1995 and tried on various charges, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and thousands injured.
The agency said it has found photos and doctrinal documents by Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, in searches of numerous AUM facilities.
AUM has updated its Web site to emphasize the spread of its teachings, according to the report, which also examined other domestic and foreign security threats over the past year.
The sect has started to notify mail-list subscribers daily of meetings and other events via mobile-phone Internet services, and has launched online sales of personal computers.
The agency said AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, remains dangerous and it will continue monitoring the group next year under a new law authorizing inspections.
In a recent letter to Kyodo News, 37-year-old Joyu said the law is unnecessary as AUM does not pose a threat to society.
The legislation took effect in December last year. Officially implemented against AUM in February, it tightens government control of the group to alleviate the concerns of people living near AUM facilities.
Joyu said the sect is just one of many religious groups that share a ''general vision'' of using information technology to support their activities, rejecting the cyber cult allegation.
He said believers have worked for computer-related firms to pay damages to victims of AUM crimes. The AUM Web site emphasizes that it has paid out 200 million yen in damages.
Asked about what he has been doing since his release Dec. 29 last year from Hiroshima Prison after serving a three-year term for perjury and document falsification, Joyu said he has listened to the woes of group members.
The agency report said the cult is now run by Joyu and six executives, including nominal leader Tatsuko Muraoka, 50.
After his release, Joyu lived in Yokohama until September, and then moved to various locations in Tokyo, dogged by residents' protests. He now lives in the capital's Ota Ward.
Joyu gained fame through media exposure as AUM's spokesman until his arrest in October 1995.
AUM has told the agency it had 1,151 followers as of Nov. 15, with 554 living in AUM facilities and 597 residing elsewhere.
The agency, however, believe there are about 1,670 members -- about 650 in AUM facilities and 1,020 outside.
The group said it has 10 facilities, but the agency says that figure is really 27.

"Law puts brakes on Aum activities"

("Japan Times," December 20, 2000)

Although a year-old law to regulate dangerous organizations has put the brakes on the activities of Aum Shinrikyo, the cult still poses a potential threat to the public, Justice Minister Masahiko Komura said Tuesday.
Since Jan. 28, the Public Security Investigation Agency has carried out 15 on-the-spot inspections, covering 39 Aum facilities nationwide, in accordance with the law that took effect on Dec. 27 last year.
The minister said that, through these inspections and through four mandatory periodical reports from Aum, the law has served its role in checking, to some extent, activities by the cult that had been causing public anxiety.
He said that the potential danger of the cult still exists, however, as jailed guru Shoko Asahara continues to wield immense power.

Aum suit against Mainichi rejected

("Japan Times," December 19, 2000)

The Tokyo District Court on Monday rejected a 10 million yen damages suit filed by the Aum Shinrikyo cult against the Mainichi Shimbun over a report on the cult's alleged ongoing research on the nerve gas sarin.
Presiding Judge Takahisa Fukuda said in the ruling that the report in the Mainichi's May 26 morning editions did not say Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, is researching the deadly gas as an organization.
"There are deep-rooted anxieties among the general public about the cult," the judge said, concluding that the report could not have further damaged Aum's reputation in the public eye.
The Mainichi report, "Continuation of sarin research," said a female Aum member's notebook, seized by police, mentioned sarin's chemical formula.

"Tokyo court rejects AUM suit against Mainichi report"

(Kyodo News Service, December 18, 2000)

TOKYO - The Tokyo District Court on Monday rejected a 10 million yen damages suit filed by the AUM Shinrikyo cult against the Mainichi Shimbun over a report on the cult's alleged ongoing research on the nerve gas sarin.
Presiding Judge Takahisa Fukuda said in the ruling that the report in the Mainichi's May 26 morning editions did not say AUM is researching the deadly gas as an organization.
''There are deep-rooted anxieties among the general public about the cult and it cannot be recognized that the report further undermines it,'' the judge said.
The Mainichi report, ''Continuation of sarin research,'' said a female AUM member's notebook, seized by police, mentioned sarin's chemical formula.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and a number of AUM members have been convicted of crimes or are on trial in serious criminal cases. These include the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured thousands.
The group now calls itself Aleph.

"Red Army may launch terrorist attack to..."

(Kyodo News Service, December 7, 2000)

TOKYO, Dec. 7 (Kyodo) - Members of the radical leftist group Japanese Red Army may launch a terrorist attack to liberate arrested leader Fusako Shigenobu, the National Police Agency (NPA) warned in a report released Thursday.
The report said Japanese Red Army cadres are working to revive the weakened group and are looking for a new base of operations.
Shigenobu, the group's 55-year-old founder and a key figure in a series of international terrorist incidents in the 1970s, was arrested in Osaka Prefecture on Nov. 8 after nearly 30 years on the run.
Four other Japanese Red Army members have been arrested and are being held in Japan after they were expelled from Lebanon in March.
The NPA said the group has not given up armed struggle, adding, ''Six other members are still on the run, including ones who committed vicious crimes in the past.''
Meanwhile, the report also said the AUM Shinrikyo cult still poses a threat to society, which is reflected in its members' behaviors. Cult members abducted a son of AUM founder Shoko Asahara after declaring in January it would never again break the law, police said.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial in a number of criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured thousands.
The cult, which calls itself ''Aleph,'' is run by 37-year-old Fumihiro Joyu, who completed a prison term in 1999 for his roles in a string of crimes.
Police have searched more than 30 locations tied to the cult.
The NPA said it ''has a strong interest'' in AUM because it believes the sect is aiming to expand its activities at home and abroad via the Internet.

"Aum Left 2 Gold Ingots Behind"

("Asahi Shimbun," December 3, 2000)

Aum Shinrikyo members were in such a hurry to move out of a house they sold to the village of Tokigawa, Saitama Prefecture, they left two gold ingots behind that were worth 2 million yen, Asahi Shimbun learned Saturday.
Village officials found the 1-kilogram ingots while cleaning up the three-story house in early October. They purchased the house from Aum for 45 million yen in August.
The house was one of two facilities that had accommodated twin sisters of a former senior member of the cult, their aunt and other followers from January 1998 to last August.
After finding the gold ingots, the officials handed them over to Saburo Abe, a court-appointed bankruptcy administrator of the cult, now renamed Aleph.
Village chief Takashi Oosawa expressed surprise that the Aum occupants overlooked the gold ingots when they moved out.
Village officials found the ingots wrapped in cloth inside a case that is normally used to store videocassette tapes.
Since the village is now the rightful owner of the gold it has the right to sell the ingots, said Shigeo Sekine, chief of the general affairs section in the village office.
But after consulting with Abe, the bankruptcy administrator, it was agreed the ingots should be sold to help victims of crimes perpetrated by the cult.
The village had allowed the twin sisters to enroll at the local elementary school on condition they left the village in August.

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Revised last: 2-01-2001