Journalist warns of AUM's appeal to youths


Kyodo/March 19, 1999

TOKYO -- Maya Kaneko Shoko Egawa, an investigative journalist and authority on the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult, on Friday stressed the importance of education and information exchange in preventing young people from joining such a doomsday cult.

Citing media reports that the AUM group, whose members are charged with various heinous crimes including the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo subways, has regrouped and is now expanding, she blamed a lack of public awareness of the group's true nature as the cause of its newfound strength.

"Today's young Japanese people are not being educated sufficiently to recognize for themselves the terrible character of such cults," Egawa said.

The award-winning journalist was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Tokyo subway gas attack, which left 12 dead and injured more than 5,300 others.

Members of the AUM group, including founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, have been indicted in the case.

AUM may appear "an attractive alternative" for young people trying to realize their dreams and identities and probing for a direction in life, said Egawa, who added she is still unsure why such youths are drawn to the cult despite knowing of its involvement in terrorist activities.

Egawa, who started monitoring AUM's activities long before the sarin gas attack, said even though most of AUM's 200 followers who were indicted in various crimes have already been convicted, the group will not lose its appeal to the vulnerable.

"Arrest, imprisonment or execution of criminals does not mean the end of the tragedy," Egawa said.

She also said Japan should learn from the experiences of countries such as France, Belgium and Germany, where groups of lawyers are tackling similar problems involving religious groups.

International cooperation and information exchange are necessary to see any victory in the fight against such cults, Egawa said.

Asked about the possibility of future criminal activities by the AUM group, Egawa said she has obtained no evidence to indicate such and thinks the group currently does not have the capability to do so.

"They will not engage themselves in such crimes unless they are instructed to do so by Asahara," Egawa said, suggesting the low possibility of future AUM attacks.

However, she warned of the group's reorganization when Fumihiro Joyu, AUM's former spokesman convicted of perjury and forgery, rejoins later this year after serving out his jail term.

Egawa won the prestigious Kan Kikuchi Award in 1995 for her investigative reporting on the cult.

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