Kyodo, Dec. 2, 2002
TOKYO — People related to the Aum Shinrikyo cult called on the Public Security Examination Commission on Monday to fairly and objectively examine a request filed by the Public Security Investigation Agency to extend the surveillance period of the cult.
The agency earlier Monday filed a request with the commission to keep the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which renamed itself “Aleph,” under surveillance for another three years.
In its request, the agency said Chizuo Matsumoto, the cult founder accused of having masterminded the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, “still wields power over the cult” and can order indiscriminate mass killings.
Yoshiyuki Kono, 52, who was wrongly suspected of being involved in the 1994 nerve-gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, said “I would like the commission to give a fair and objective judgment on exactly what is happening in Aleph and what is dangerous about it.”
Kono currently serves as a member of the prefecture’s Public Safety Commission, which monitors the activities of the prefectural police. He was appointed to the post in July.
Kono was initially considered by police to be the prime suspect in the 1994 attack, which left seven people dead and more than 100 others injured. The attack was later found to have been carried out by the cult. His wife, Sumiko, 54, was one of the victims of the gas attack and remains in a coma to this day.
Kono said he is certain the cult had conducted the sarin-gas attack in Matsumoto, but said, “Whether the cult is as dangerous as it used to be is a different thing.”
Referring to a female cult member who was forced to vacate her condominium in Matsumoto because of strong protests from neighbors, Kono said, “We have to take appropriate measures if the cult is really dangerous, but I think it is not good for us to have such a society where those members are ousted and have no place just because they are one of the cult members.”
Social critic Makoto Sataka said there is no need to extend the period of surveillance for the cult because it poses no major public threat now. There is no meaning or effectiveness in regulating a religious organization by law, Sataka said.
“In fact, the law is insufficient and arbitrary as the criteria for the dangerousness of the organization are unclear. It is more important to strengthen the capabilities of society to prevent such abuses from invading our society,” he said.
Shizue Takahashi, 55, the representative of a group of victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway attack that left 12 people dead and thousands injured, said the continuation of surveillance is necessary as public attention on the cult has diminished recently. Takahashi’s husband, who was a subway operator, died in the attack.
“The high-ranking members of the cult are still active in the organization and we should not take away the watchful eyes from the cult,” she said.
“We should not stop watching them while the lawsuit against those who conducted the attacks are still going on and the truth about the incidents has yet to be revealed,” she added.
Shoko Egawa, a journalist and expert on reports on the cult, echoed Takahashi’s comments, saying the extension may be justified, considering the current situation of the cult.
“As the security agency pointed out, the cult is setting up its facility to solicit new members nationwide without using its name. They now use aggravated and artful tactics to solicit people by inspiring fear and anxiety,” she said, adding that if the authority quits watching the cult, it will be given a “free hand.”
Masato Ichikawa, professor at Ritsumeikan University and an expert on the Japanese Constitution, said the clauses in the anti-Aum law should be interpreted in a strict manner as the law puts regulation on freedom of religion.
“The commission should show clear and concrete evidence that there is a possibility for the cult to conduct mass killings in the future…which is highly doubtful,” he said.
The anti-Aum law stipulates the cult must be left alone once the commission determines it no longer poses a danger to the public.