The Lower House Judicial Committee approved two bills Wednesday designed to tighten control of Aum Shinrikyo and facilitate redress to the cult's victims.
The bills cleared the committee with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners, the Liberal Party and New Komeito, as well as the largest opposition force, the Democratic Party of Japan.
The committee's approval will pave the way for the bills to be passed in a plenary session of the Lower House today and the Upper House by early December.
One of the bills, submitted by the government, will allow the Public Security Investigation Agency to regularly supervise or restrict the activities of Aum followers.
The bills will likely go into effect by the end of this year.
It does not specifically name Aum but says the purpose of the legislation is to impose controls on any group whose members have carried out or attempted indiscriminate mass murder in the past 10 years and whose leader still holds strong sway over its members.
The bill also states that curbs on targeted groups must be kept to a minimum and must not unreasonably restrict people's basic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
The government drafted the bill after getting complaints from local governments asking for measures against increasing cases of friction between local residents and Aum. The cult has been trying to establish its presence in various parts of Japan and has encountered local resistance in the process.
Many Aum members, including its founder, Shoko Asahara, are on trial for or have been found guilty of a series of heinous crimes, including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.
In 1997, the Public Security Examination Commission, an extraministerial board of the Justice Ministry, rejected the government's request to invoke the Antisubversive Activities Law to disband Aum.
Initially, the government studied a possible revision of the 1952 law, but decided to draft a new one specifically restricting the activities of Aum in a bid to win wide support in the Diet.
One point of contention during Diet deliberations was whether the law would be used to crack down on other groups.
Opposition lawmakers claimed that provisions of the bills may lead authorities to apply it to other groups, but Justice Minister Hideo Usui repeatedly said, "Aum is the only group at the moment that would meet the conditions of the legislation."
To clarify the government's point, the DPJ insisted that the bill be limited to cover groups whose attempt at indiscriminate mass murder occurred within the past 10 years. The LDP-led coalition parties agreed to that point.
The four parties also agreed to narrow the definition of the law's target, by mentioning in the legislation that it is aimed against groups that committed indiscriminate murders "by, for example, using sarin gas."
The four parties also agreed on re-examining the contents of the legislation and to consider the possibility of updating it every five years.
The other bill, submitted by the LDP-led ruling coalition, aims to collect the assets of the bankrupt Aum Shinrikyo and its affiliated companies and groups, and submit them to the court-appointed trustee assigned to dispose of the cult's assets.
The Tokyo District Court declared Aum bankrupt in March 1996, and its assets were to be collected by the trustee and distributed as redress to people victimized by the crimes blamed on Aum.
But because Aum did not keep records or have bank accounts, the trustee has had difficulty grasping the true amount of the cult's financial assets.
Last year, about 2,100 claimants, including survivors of Aum's crimes and the next of kin of other victims, received a total of 950 million yen. This, however, is just 22.59 percent of the total claims against the cult.
Meanwhile, it is speculated that some of Aum's assets escaped the trustee and were used to continue the group's activities. Aum's total income topped 7 billion yen last year, according to the Public Security Investigation Agency.
The bill allows a court-appointed trustee to request the return of assets that may have been earned before bankruptcy was filed.
"I really hope the bill will be passed as soon as possible, because it will make it easier for me to collect the assets of the cult and distribute more money to the victims," Saburo Abe, a lawyer and the trustee of Aum's bankruptcy case, said at a hearing session of the Judicial Committee this week.
Niimi bashes 'bashing'
Senior Aum Shinrikyo member Tomomitsu Niimi, who is facing murder and other charges in 11 court cases, denounced on Wednesday the "bashing" that the religious cult was taking at the hands of the public.
During a trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court, Niimi, 35, argued that the public's behavior toward the cult is a kind of "kin-hatred" by Japanese people "who, like current Aum members, neither regret nor even know about their past."
However, when Judge Kaoru Kanayama asked him about his feeling toward the victims of his alleged crimes, Niimi declined to comment, saying he would tell the whole truth in his next hearing.
Niimi stands accused of involvement in several murder cases, including the deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo subway system in 1995. However, he has maintained silence about those and other incidents allegedly committed by
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