AUM's true colors

Mainichi Shimbun 30 September 1999

After AUM Shinrikyo's leaders were put on trial for carrying out the deadly sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 and a court declarattion in 1996 that the organization was bankrupt, the cult was supposed to have disbanded as a religious sect. But about 2,000 of AUM Shinrikyo's followers have continued their activities as a part of a voluntary organization.

The cult's followers are engaged in disputes with more than 20 communities whose residents have called for their eviction. Many local government officials believe that the cult has not changed its ways and have used a variety of means to try to drive out what they perceive to be a dangerous organization. The arrest of two cult members in the Nagano Prefecture town of Kiso-Fukushima on Sept. 29 will only reinforce the public perception that the AUM Shinrikyo is a danger to society.

The two cult members were arrested for allegedly confining a female cult member against her will. While she was confined, her hands and feet were bound with adhesive tape and her head was submerged in a bath tub. She escaped from her captors in April 1998. AUM Shinrikyo denies the charges, but the police suspect that the cult's leaders issued the instructions to confine the woman.

Kiso-Fukushima has filed a suit with the Nagano District Court seeking the eviction of the AUM Shinrikyo from their premises in the town. The cult bears responsibility for being perceived as a threat by communities around the country. Though quick to assert its own rights, the cult has never apologized nor shown remorse for its past actions.

Because the cult is extremely secretive, it has been difficult to obtain accurate information about its activities. This lack of knowledge has served to magnify the fear felt by people who live near cult facilities. We hope that police investigations will help to provide a complete picture of the cult's operations.

AUM Shinrikyo has about 40 branches nationwide, but it is not clear how it obtains the money needed to pay for the upkeep of its facilities. The cult operates a computer store that generates annual sales of about 7 billion yen, and it apparently has additional sources of revenue. Tax officials are continuing their investigation of cult finances, but they should also consider coordinating their efforts with the police.

More than 150 communities have formed task forces to respond to the threat posed by the cult, and in July, officials from 23 municipalities gathered to establish a liaison committee. However, existing laws prevent local officials from taking drastic measures.

The Cabinet is preparing to submit legislation to the Diet this fall that would help the government crack down on AUM Shinrikyo. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said he has been urged by governors who have had problems with the cult to help implement more effective anti-AUM measures.

One of the bills being drafted would allow the government to seize the property of organizations like AUM Shinrikyo that have carried out indiscriminate murder and ban them from collecting donations and recruiting new members. Another bill would amend the bankruptcy law to allow courts to seize the assets of the cult to compensate victims of crimes committed by its members.