Japan govt approves bill aimed at doomsday cult

Reuters, Nov 2, 1999

TOKYO, Nov 2, 1999 (Reuters) - Japan on Tuesday approved a bill aimed at restricting the activities of the doomsday cult accused of a 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, Japanese media reported.

The bill did not directly name the cult, Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect), but said its purpose was to monitor the activities of any group that has engaged in "indiscriminate mass-murder," NHK television said.

A number of Aum members, including leader Shoko Asahara, are on trial and have been convicted in connection with the gas attack, which killed 12 and made more than 5,000 ill. One was sentenced to death in September for his part in the subway attack.

The bill was approved at a regularly-scheduled cabinet meeting and was expected to be passed during the current session of parliament, given a majority held by the coalition government.

Under the bill, a group implicated in serious crimes can be placed under the surveillance of the Public Security Investigation Agency for up to three years and could be forced to report on its activities every three months, Kyodo news agency said.

Police and public security officials would have the right to inspect such a group's facilities at any time thought necessary, the bill says.

If the group is found to have committed illegal activities, it can be banned from acquiring land or facilities for up to six months.

Public pressure and police crackdowns on the cult have intensified recently in response to fears it could be staging a comeback.

The cult was forced to close down several branch offices in September, and two senior cult members were arrested on suspicion of confining a woman to cult facilities against her will.

In late September, the group said it would close its branches and promised to stop recruiting and using its current name, in a move seen aimed at deflecting further opposition.

The cult was stripped of most of its assets in 1996 when it was liquidated by court order, but has managed to amass large funds through businesses as well as purchased property in many parts of the country.

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