Campaign for Anti-Aum law to continue

The government remains committed to its plan to draw up a new law to specifically restrict the activities of Aum Shinrikyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said Thursday.

Japan Times, September 30, 1999

His comment came one day after the cult announced it will terminate all its external activities and temporarily suspend the use of its name beginning today.

Aum failed to deliver its expected apology Wednesday over crimes for which its senior members are on trial, and Nonaka said this shows doubts remain about whether the cult has changed its heretofore dangerous nature.

Residents living near Aum's facilities live with strong anxiety, he added.

"We will keep closely watching Aum," Nonaka said, noting the government will keep working to submit the legislation to the Diet as soon as possible.

The Justice Ministry is in the process of compiling a bill to clamp down on the group, whose members have been accused of indiscriminate mass murder and whose basic nature apparently remains unchanged.

In its announcement late Wednesday evening, Aum did not apologize for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, as many had expected, saying only that it would "consider carrying out a comprehensive investigation" and present its view on the matter at a later date.

Senior cultists made the announcement during a news conference at Aum's office in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, saying the cult wanted time to review its operations.

Aum also said it will also ponder a new name, after being ordered by its court- appointed administrator in August to refrain from using Aum Shinrikyo.

Acting cult spokeswoman Tatsuko Muraoka said many Aum members will be engaged in the review process, making cult activities difficult. She also reckoned that continuing external activities without establishing policies for the future might have a bad effect on society.

According to the cultists, Aum will close all its branches, ban assembly meetings such as seminars -- one of its main fundraising sources -- and prohibit the soliciting of new followers.

They added that they would stop distributing leaflets and newsletters as well as refrain from buying large-scale properties.

For years, Aum had insisted that the facts behind the crimes its members stand accused of committing have not been clarified and that cult founder Shoko Asahara had not offered any explanation for them.

But last week, Asahara, 44, admitted the cult's involvement in the gas attack during a trial of an Aum defendant, saying Yoshihiro Inoue, the cult's former intelligence chief, brought up the idea and discussed it with the late Hideo Murai, another senior cultist at the time.

This testimony by the guru was seen by many observers as a sign that the cult might issue a response regarding the crimes it is linked to, especially the subway nerve gas attack.

Aum's apparent attempt to play ball comes as municipalities repeatedly grow alarmed about the cult's presence in local neighborhoods. The concerns have prompted the central government to take steps to curb the cult's activities.

Aum followers face the prospect of opposition from local residents nationwide whenever they buy property or build facilities. In response to fears aired by a worried public, local governments have in many cases have rejected residence registry applications from cultists or have refused to accept those forced out of other municipalities.

Security authorities believe the cult's apparent public appeasement Wednesday is a bid to earn sympathy ahead of the government's moves to draw up the anti-Aum legislation.

Shoko Egawa, a journalist who has closely tracked the cult's activities, said Aum's current actions will never remove the anger and suspicion that its victims harbor.

"Today the cultists dashed their chances of making themselves reborn through their own hands," she said after Aum's Wednesday press conference.

The cult may be waiting for the charismatic Fumihiro Joyu, Aum's public relations chief, to be released from prison in November and return to the fold, Egawa said.

"Aum has repeatedly broken its promises (in the past), so even though the cultists say they will stop their activities, I can't trust them," an Adachi Ward resident said after Aum's press conference. Adachi office vacated Twenty-five Aum Shinrikyo members on Thursday vacated the cult's facility in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, where its public relations section was located, and turned it over to the cult's court-appointed administrator, Saburo Abe.

According to officials at the Adachi Ward office, the cultists were to move temporarily to Aum's Tokyo headquarters in Toshima Ward. In anticipation, local residents built a barricade of desks and chairs in front of the Toshima office's parking lot to prevent Aum members from moving in.

Any attempt by the cultists to register their residency is likely to be rejected. Most local governments nationwide have said they will not accept Aum members.

Meanwhile, as the cultists calmly moved out of the facility, their comrade, Masato Yokoyama, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court for his role in the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attack.

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