Japan Cult Cites Persecution


The Associated Press, July 1, 1999
By Joji Sakuri

TOKYO (AP) - The Japanese doomsday cult whose guru has been charged with murder in a 1995 subway nerve-gas attack accused the goverment on Thursday of unfairly cracking down on the group.

Hiroshi Araki, spokesman for Aum Shinrikyo, said the cult's activities have been peaceful since its top leaders were arrested after the Tokyo gassing, which killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

He said a flurry of arrests on trespassing charges of Aum members trying to distribute recruitment brochures was unconstitutional and violated Japan's guaranteed freedom of speech.

The cult has been rebuilding its finances by selling discount computers. It has also been acquiring property around Japan, to the dismay of local residents. Provincial governments have blocked Aum from setting up bases in areas where it buys land.

Araki said resistance to Aum stems from a ``misunderstanding'' and an ``emotional reaction.''

He also criticized the recent passage of updated defense guidelines between Japan and the United States, saying they lent credence to guru Shoko Asahara's predictions of an ``Armageddon'' in 1999.

``It is not excessive to say (the defense bills) will lead Japan to war,'' Araki said.

Asahara and other Aum leaders are currently on trial for murder on charges emming from the subway gassing.

Following the subway attack, Aum was stripped of its protection as a religious group, but the government stopped short of using an anti-subversion law to ban it. Members still have the constitutional right to practice their religious beliefs.

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