- The Tokyo District Court ordered the Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Tuesday to pay damages and apologize to the Aleph religious group, previously known as Aum Shinrikyo, for releasing an investigative report about the 1995 attempted murder of the national police chief, Takaji Kunimatsu, that suggested the cult was behind the attack.
- Japanese newsagency Kyodo says
The Tokyo police released the investigative report on March 30, 2010, after the statute of limitation on the attack ran out. It said the attack was an act of terrorism by Aum members. The police put an outline of the report on its website for about one month.
In Tuesday’s decision, presiding Judge Hiroshi Ishii said the report was illegal and criticized it for running counter to the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
The Tokyo police argued during the trial that the report did not defame Aleph because it is a different group from Aum. The court ruled, however, that Aleph continues to be generally regarded as Aum and that the report was damaging to the group.
The trial did not address whether the content of the report was factual or whether there was sufficient cause to suspect Aum’s involvement.
- According to the Asahi Shimbun
In its decision, the court acknowledged that police did not make a pointed reference to Aleph in the report. But it sided with Aleph in the defamation claim, citing two instances.
It said right after the police report was released, Aleph ran into local opposition over its plan to build its facility in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward.
It also said that Aleph was recognized as “in a condition under the absolute control of Matsumoto” when it came under surveillance.
The court said these instances were grounds for judging that Aum Shinrikyo and Aleph were effectively perceived as identical and thus the police report undermined Aleph’s reputation.
The court also noted that the report received wide media coverage and could be used in the future as the basis for argument that cult members were the culprits.
- Aum Shinrikyo is best known for its March 20, 1995 terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway system, during which cult members released nerve gas.
- Prior to that attack, with which the cult hoped to instigate Armageddon, Aum Shinrikyo already had a lengthy history of violence
- After the nerve gas attack, Aum lost its official status as a religious organization
- Faced with mounting government and police scrutiny, in January, 2000, Aum Shinrikyo claimed to distance itself from its founder, cult leader Shoko Asahara (real name: Chizuo Matsumoto), who is on death row.
The group also changed its name to Aleph, after the Sanskrit for ‘unlimited expansion.’
- The cult remains under surveillance, as does an offshoot named Hikari no Wa, which was established in 2007.
- Japan’s National Police Agency says that a total of 6,583 people fell victim to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and seven other crimes committed by Aum Shinrikyo.
- In June 2012 police in Japan arrested the last Aum Shinrikyo fugitive.
- Thirteen Aum Shinrikyo cult members are on death row, including Shoko Asahara.
- Last December the Japanese government’s Public Security Intelligence Agency (PSIA) released a report that shows Aleph and Hikari no Wa gained a record high number of new followers in 2012: 255 members.
The largest increase in demographics is those aged 35 or under, making up 22% of new followers at the end of 2008, but now at 32%. Those in their 20s specifically have risen from 7% to 19% over the same four years. Aleph has been found to be entering university campuses in April, the beginning of Japan’s school year, and again in May and November, when festivals are often held. They then put up flyers for their organization on bulletin boards meant for school clubs without permission.
The PSIA is concerned over these actions as the posters don’t specifically have the Aleph name or reveal the group’s religious nature. While the number of new members is increasing, the total follower count shows no drastic changes as people regularly quit the cult as well.
- Followers of Aleph reportedly still worship Shoko Asahara.