The Tokyo District Court turned down Friday a request by the AUM Shinrikyo cult to stop government surveillance of it, saying its founder Shoko Asahara continues to wield power over members.
AUM, whose members perpetrated the sarin gas attacks in Nagano Prefecture in June 1994 and on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995, had argued in court that it no longer poses any specific danger that could lead to indiscriminate mass murder and that conditions do not warrant the state's extended surveillance of it.
But the court argued that the state's action is in line with the Constitution and is legal, and also cited how Asahara, who was sentenced to death on Feb. 27 for masterminding various crimes including the 1994 and 1995 attacks, still has power over AUM followers.
The court, however, rejected the claim by the government's Public Security Examination Commission that Asahara is still a key member of the cult, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.
The action to put AUM under surveillance is based on a December 1999 law that was instituted in the wake of the sarin attacks and other crimes perpetrated by AUM. Although it did not mention AUM by name, it is widely believed the law in effect targets the cult.
The law allows the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency to monitor any organization that has committed "indiscriminate mass murder in the past." It also enables police and security authorities to inspect the facilities of such groups without a warrant and allows the authorities to limit cult activities if they deem necessary.
In handing down the decision, Presiding Judge Yosuke Ichimura dismissed the AUM members' argument that the law was unconstitutional.
"It was formulated to ensure citizens' safety by preventing a group that caused indiscriminate killing in the past from repeating such incidents. Members of such a group deserve to be restrained," he said.
The judge also said the court will study the conditions that warrant such surveillance.
Ichimura said Asahara, 49, "even now has influence over the cult's activities mainly because senior cult members are still preaching absolute submission" to him.
The cult, now headed by Fumihiro Joyu who was previously a close aide of Asahara, has tried to make efforts to shed its criminal image.
But Ichimura said he sees no progress in the cult's efforts to reform.
"The cult still poses a danger, given that many followers who served time for past (cult-induced) crimes have returned to the cult," he said in explaining the legitimacy of the extended surveillance.
Acting on a request by the agency, the Public Security Examination Commission extended the surveillance period for AUM for another three years on Jan. 20, 2003, saying the cult is still capable of committing indiscriminate mass murder.
The first surveillance period was imposed in January 2000, prompting the cult to file a lawsuit the same year. The Tokyo District Court rejected the suit in June 2001.
After an extension was imposed, the cult again filed a lawsuit with the same district court in March 2003, calling for annulment of the extended three-year surveillance and saying the agency's action is unconstitutional.
Asahara - whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto - was given the death sentence for murder, attempted murder and other charges in 13 criminal cases that resulted in the death of 27 people. He remains in custody and his defense team is appealing against the ruling.