– Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research, by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
The conviction of Shoko Asahara may satisfy some victims of the Aum cult’s sarin gas attack but there are many people in Japan who believe the attack should never have happened.
One is Shoko Egawa, a journalist who has covered the Aum Shin Rikyo cult since 1989, and who very nearly became one of its victims.
“The police were reluctant to investigate Aum before 1995, saying that no obvious crimes were connected with the cult, but that is absolutely untrue,” she said. She cited the disappearance of the Sakamoto family from their home in Yokohama in November 1989.
Tsutsumi Sakamoto was a lawyer helping parents who were trying to get their children out of the cult; he disappeared with his wife and one-year-old son. Even with blood stains on their bedroom wall and an Aum Shin Rikyo lapel pin discovered in a corner of their home, police refused to carry out a full investigation, Egawa said. The Sakamotos’ bodies were discovered buried in mountains in central Japan after the arrest of high-ranking members of the cult.
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“If the police had investigated Aum before, the sarin gas attack would probably never have happened,” said Egawa, who was herself attacked in 1994. Phosgene gas was forced through the letter box of her apartment one evening just after she had written an article critical of the cult for a Japanese magazine.
Today, she believes Aum – which has changed its name to Aleph – poses far less danger because it is under surveillance from the Public Security Intelligence Agency. But many cult followers still refuse to accept Asahara’s guilt, and still follow his teachings.
“Their state of mind is not different from 1995,” Egawa said. “They may have changed their name and claim they are no longer Aum, but I don’t want anyone to get carried away with that. They are Aum.”