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Cult wins residency battle • Thursday June 26, 2003

Mainichi Daily News (Japan), Junew 26, 2003

Japan’s top court on Thursday disqualified local governments from refusing AUM Shinrikyo members’ residency in their areas in a landmark ruling on the issue.

The Supreme Court’s decision will force many local governments across Japan to review their stance in dealing with the controversial cult since they can no longer reject residency applications from AUM members.

Residential locations of AUM members has been an ongoing social issue, with the group asking courts to revoke local governments’ decisions not to accept their residency applications in 16 areas throughout the country.

The top court specifically ordered Tokyo’s Suginami-ku and Naka-ku, Nagoya, to accept applications from AUM members. “If (AUM members) move into the areas, the local governments concerned cannot refuse their residency notification,” a judge presiding over the two cases said.

Officials in both Suginami-ku and Naka-ku had insisted that local governments were authorized to receive or reject residency applications because they have a duty to protect the health and safety of the local residents.

Hiroshi Yamada, ward chief of Suginami, was furious about the top court’s decision.

“The court doesn’t understand local residents’ anxiety (about AUM members’ moving in),” Yamada said. “I want the national government to think about fundamental measures to help solve the issue.”

Hiroshi Araki, a top spokesman for the cult, kept a low profile.

“The residency problem is related to a series of past crimes (committed by AUM members), for which I now make an apology,” said Araki. “We have sent letters to local governments where our members have filed lawsuits over their residency, asking them to reach an out-of-court settlement.”

Several local governments such as Tokyo’s Setagaya-ku and Adachi-ku have allowed AUM members to move in after courts ordered them to do so.

But Setagaya officials now subsidize local residents who keep an eye on AUM members’ activities in their ward.

The issue is complicated because AUM members tabled their residency applications in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture, even though they don’t actually live there.

The Yashio Municipal Government previously decided to allow cult members to move in and to pay compensation for initially rejecting their applications. But now the city insists that it doesn’t have to pay damages in a lawsuit it filed because some AUM members who had their applications rejected actually reside in other prefectures.

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