The Asahi Shimbun (Japan), Oct. 8, 2002
Saying alleged mass murderer Chizuo Matsumoto still holds his cult followers in thrall, the government is expected to tack on three more years of surveillance of Aum Shinrikyo, sources said.
The Public Security Investigation Agency plans to extend current surveillance to January 2006 because the cult is still dangerous, sources said.
The current monitoring term expires at the end of January 2003.
The agency will file an extension request with the Public Security Examination Commission by the end of this year.
The surveillance began in January 2000. It was authorized by a 1999 law to control organizations involved in indiscriminate mass murder. Creation of the law was driven by Aum’s sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 that killed 12 people and other crimes.
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Aum “must still be kept under surveillance” as it is just as dangerous as before, the sources said.
The cult has since renamed itself “Aleph.”
The sources said members of the cult still regard Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, as their holy leader.
Matsumoto, 47, is on trial on charges of masterminding the subway attack and another sarin gas poisoning in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994. Seven people died in the Matsumoto attack. Thousands were sickened in the two attacks.
The organization control law can be applied if there remains a danger of mass murder, the mastermind of mass murder still holds influence, or members involved in mass murder still belong to the group.
Since January 2000, agency inspectors checked 85 Aum facilities in 16 prefectures and determined Matsumoto’s grip over the cult has not waned-meeting the requirement for extending the surveillance.
The agency also considered the opinions of people living near Aum facilities when making its decision. Eighteen requests to keep Aum under continued watch were filed by local governments and communities, including Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward.
Aum officials opposed to the extension said there is no need for monitoring by the agency as “it is already kept under watch by security police.”
The cult said it is impossible for followers to get directions from Matsumoto because he is locked up in the Tokyo detention house.
“Matsumoto has lost his influence over the organization, and there is no risk of recurrence of indiscriminate mass murder attempts,” an Aum official said.
The organization control law has been controversial from the beginning, with opponents saying it violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion.
In June 2001, the Tokyo District Court dismissed Aum’s request that the agency’s monitoring be terminated.
The ruling said the step was constitutional, but noted that “there should be specific danger” of a group starting to prepare for mass murder before such a measure is taken.
Yasuhiro Okudaira, a professor emeritus of constitutional studies at the University of Tokyo, lauded the court decision as “strictly in tune with the principle of freedom of religion.”
He said careful examination of the changes during the past three years is important before the agency’s surveillance of the group is extended.