Cult divided on where loyalty lies

The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan/September 15, 2006

In recent months, the Aum Supreme Truth cult has been bitterly divided between followers loyal to Fumihiro Joyu, its current leader, and those increasingly devoted to the group's founder, Chizuo Matsumoto.

The cult's anti-Joyu group worships Matsumoto and his family with godlike reverence, still believing in dangerous teachings, an official of the Public Security Investigation Agency said.

The pro-Joyu group's ostensible attempt to defy the teachings propagated by Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, is only aimed at ensuring the Subversive Organizations Control Law is not applied to them, the official said. Joyu is seeking to set up a new cult group with his sympathizers.

According to the agency, there are about 1,650 Aum followers across the nation today, about 650 of whom have left their homes to live communally to practice the cult's teachings. The rest of the cultists live in their own houses.

About 30 percent of the 450 of so followers arrested in connection with the series of Aum-related crimes have returned to the cult, according to the agency.

The Supreme Court's latest decision to reject a special appeal filed by Matsumoto's defense counsel, which finalized his death sentence, could prompt some Aum members to take their own lives after his sentence is carried out, and even attempt to rescue him before the execution, the official said.

There are 30 Aum facilities in Tokyo and 16 prefectures, including the five operated by followers sympathetic toward Joyu, 43. Meanwhile, 24 facilities are run by cultists opposing him. The group's headquarters in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, comprises both pro- and anti-Joyu followers. These rival factions live in separate apartments.

"[Friday's decision] marks a passing point [to Aum followers]," said a 39-year-old follower as he emerged from an apartment that houses pro-Joyu cultists. "They will probably be even more greatly shocked when the sentence is carried out. Although I don't intend to renounce my faith [in Aum's teachings], I hope to think about what those incidents were all about."

Aum's major financial resources include donations from followers who live in their own homes and wages earned by cultists who have left their houses to join the group. Another major source of Aum's funds is meetings organized by the cult to give sermons.

Aum's two rival factions have held separate workshops for followers since the end of last year. In August, the two groups collected 29 million yen in donations from their respective followers.

However, there has been little progress in compensating victims and families of Aum's crimes. Debts incurred by the cult total about 5.1 billion yen, including about 3.8 billion yen in compensation owed to the victims and their families.

The cult group has paid only 1.5 billion yen in compensation. In recent years, Aum has paid only tens of million yen annually.

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