The Public Security Commission’s decision Jan. 31 not to invoke the Antisubversive Activities Law against Aum Shinrikyo reflects tremendous changes the cult has gone through in the past few years, including the arrests of its key figures and fugitives and its declaration of bankruptcy.When the Public Security Investigation Agency asked last July that the law be invoked, it had ample reason to be optimistic about persuading the commission to outlaw the cult. The public largely supported the move. According to a November 1995 opinion poll, taken by a national daily newspaper eight months after the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system, for which key cultists stand accused, nearly 80 percent of the public supported outlawing the cult under the law.At one time, even the cult apparently anticipated its own shutdown. Aum sold off its textbooks at discount prices and held “initiation” seminars last summer in a last-minute attempt to raise funds, according to agency information leaked to the media.But the agency’s confidence that the law would be invoked apparently eroded in recent months, as four of seven Aum fugitives were arrested in succession late last year. The agency fought hard to prove the cult “will engage in continuous or repeated terrorist attacks in the future,” a prerequisite for the invocation of the law. Aum fought equally as hard to disprove this contention.The fugitives’ remarks after their capture that they were tired of life on the run did not fit the agency’s portrayal of the cult as a powerful group whose members at large were still plotting to overthrow the government under the direction of the cult. The agency has said the arrests do not mean the cult is no longer dangerous. On the contrary, their being able to remain at large for a long period despite the police dragnet was taken as an indication that Aum had an organized support network for its fugitives, it said.The recent discovery of VX nerve gas and hydrocyanic gas based on the fugitives’ confessions also proved advantageous for Aum’s lawyers, who maintained the cult no longer posed a danger of future attacks. The cult has also complied with a court dissolution order based on the Religious Corporation Law, vacating its facilities and turning over its assets to a court-appointed liquidator.The security agency’s request for application of the law, on the other hand, was considered self-serving. The agency was established together with the antisubversive law in 1952, amid the growing fear of the global spread of communism.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.