Japan braces for release of senior doomsday cult leader


The Associated Press, December 14, 1999
By Joji Sakurai

TOKYO (AP) -- A charismatic leader of the doomsday cult accused of a deadly subway gassing in Tokyo will likely try to revive the group after his release from prison, a leading expert on the cult said today. Fumihiro Joyu, the top spokesman for Aum Shinri Kyo before his arrest on charges of trying to cover-up the group's activities, is scheduled to be set free on Dec. 29 after less than three years in jail.

The cult is anxiously awaiting his return as most of its leaders, including guru Shoko Asahara, are on trial in the 1995 subway nerve gas attack that killed 12 people, said Shoko Egawa, a journalist who has tracked Aum for almost a decade.

"The cult's current leadership is full of passive people," Egawa told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. "They are no doubt thinking 'Joyu come back soon and take over!'"

Japan is particularly apprehensive about Joyu's release because his articulate manner and matinee idol looks won him scores of fans among young women -- even as Aum was suspected of mass-murder. There has been little doubt Joyu was one of the masterminds behind the cult: He is a graduate of Japan's elite Waseda University and was an official at the country's space program before joining Aum.

The passage of legislation this month to rein in the cult's activities is believed to have been timed at least in part to pre-empt cult efforts to regroup after Joyu's release.

Despite such fears, Egawa believes there is little danger Aum will make a strong comeback any time soon.

She said it will take time for Joyu to adjust to life after prison. And she predicted some cult members may bristle at what she described as his "cold-hearted" style, citing his treatment of followers overseas. "He cut all ties with Russian headquarters, with no consideration to followers in Russia," said Egawa. "If he takes such a way again, more followers may not approve of his actions."

And the new laws passed this month that allow the government to monitor and seize the assets of organizations that have committed mass-murder will make it harder than ever for Aum to regroup.

Egawa expressed the most concern about the next generation of Aum. She said that Asahara's school-age children hold almost absolute authority within the cult and that his oldest daughter is showing a precocious lust for power.

"Asahara may never be set free, but his children are being trained to succeed him and they are likely to try to revive the cult," Egawa said


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