Government must take steps to control Aum


Yomiuri Shimbun/May 23, 1999

The Aum Supreme Truth cult appears to be regaining strength. The formerly dormant group is seeking to buy recreational facilities, hotels and factories in many areas to house large groups of cult members.

Aum's resurgent activities naturally have triggered a large number of disputes with local residents. This is demonstrated by the fact that 23 local governments in Tokyo and six prefectures have established committees to deal with problems that have arisen from Aum's infiltration into their areas.

Residents in those areas have good reason to feel apprehensive about the cult's revival. All available means must be taken to lay their grave concerns to rest as soon as possible.

The cult has reacted strongly to anti-Aum campaigns by such residents working to prevent the cult from establishing a foothold in their areas. Cult leaders and members insist that these residents are striving to suppress the group's religious faith and activities. However, Aum members should stop to think about why local residents have vehemently refused to accept the group in their areas.

Incorrigibly criminal

First of all, there is no evidence to prove that Aum has abandoned the mind-set that drove the cult to perpetrate the lethal sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. The cult has recently sought to increase its strength again, but without apologizing for the incident and taking responsibility for its crime.

There are currently more than 2,000 Aum followers. About 40 percent of Aum members arrested in connection with the series of crimes linked to the cult reportedly have reverted to the group.

Aum followers still worship Chizuo Matsumoto--the cult leader being tried in connection with many Aum-related crimes--as a god. For instance, they are seeking to propagate his dangerous teachings and prophecies through the Internet and other media, while at the same time encouraging cult members to make a "pilgrimage" to the Tokyo Detention House, where Matsumoto, who is more popularly known as Shoko Asahara, has been held since he was arrested soon after the sarin incident.

Anyone may believe in any religion. Nevertheless, Aum should not be allowed to develop unchecked if it continues to do whatever it wants, leaving local residents feeling intimidated and uneasy.

Among other things, the cult has used dummy companies and the names of individuals unrelated to Aum to gain a foothold in many areas--a method similar to the trick employed by the group before the series of Aum-related crimes were brought to light. This typifies the untrustworthiness of the group, whose behavior runs counter to socially accepted rules.

Japan is probably the only country among the major industrialized nations in which a dangerous group like Aum has been left uncontrolled, despite a number of terrorist attacks and other crimes linked to it, and has eventually resumed collective activities, causing panic among local residents. This is in stark contrast to many other industrial nations, where laws aimed at fighting terrorism and organized crimes have been enforced to crack down on the perpetrators.

Missed opportunity

But this country has not enacted any such relevant legislation, except for the Anti-subversive Activities Law. In January 1997, the Public Security Examination Commission rejected a petition for the application of the draconian law to Aum, saying that there was no good cause to believe that the cult would conduct further violent and subversive activities in the future.

Under the circumstances, this decision should be considered unwise. Many critics say that there is no point having such a law if it is not invoked to disband a criminal group such as Aum.

Some members of the ruling parties and the government insist that another petition should be made to apply the Anti-subversive Activities Law to the cult. They are also studying ways to revise some other laws to regulate a certain category of activities conducted by dangerous groups such as Aum.

Moderation should be exercised in considering both proposals, which call for strict requirements to be met and involves sensitive issues related to the Constitution. It will take time to complete procedures needed to implement such action.

In this sense, it may be a viable idea to revise the Anti-subversive Activities Law so that it can be more flexibly applied. Under the current law, any law-offending organization must be disbanded or become subject to legal control on its activities for no more than six months. However, the law includes no provision that defines measures that fall somewhere between these two penalties.

It may be wise to reform the law to ensure that authorities place under supervision groups such as Aum that pose hazards to society and take quick action if the group poses a serious threat to residents living near its facilities.

Certainly, every possible means should be considered to contain the threat posed by Aum. However, the cult should not be left as it is until any action is taken. Investigative, taxation and any other authorities should join hands to prosecute the cult for any wrongdoing it has committed by taking advantage of the existing legal framework.

It is essential to alleviate the concerns of local resident at the earliest opportunity and contain the panic spreading among those affected by Aum's renewed activities.

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