The government submitted a bill to the Diet on Tuesday that will clamp down on Aum Shinrikyo by allowing the Public Security Investigation Agency to regularly supervise and restrict the activities of the cult’s followers.

The bill is expected to clear the current session with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partners, the Liberal Party and New Komeito, and will possibly take effect by the end of this year.

It does not specifically name Aum but says the purpose of the legislation is to impose controls on any group whose members have carried out or attempted “indiscriminate” murders and whose leader still holds a strong sway over its members.

Many Aum members, including its founder, Shoko Asahara, are on trial for or have been found guilty of a series of heinous crimes, including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

The government decided to draft the bill earlier this year after local authorities grew fearful of the resurgent cultists and began to launch campaigns to oust them from their communities.

“Aum Shinrikyo has been active in many parts of Japan and has shown no sign of regret or apologized for its past serious crimes,” Justice Minister Hideo Usui said after the Cabinet meeting Tuesday. “The bill was designed to reduce the anxiety of municipalities and residents near Aum facilities, and I believe it will serve to do so.”

Local governments and residents confronting Aum in their communities reportedly have high expectations for the legislation, but some doubt the law will really solve the problem.

“We really hope the bill will be approved and go into effect as quickly as possible,” said Kazuo Senbo, mayor of Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, where municipal authorities rejected a residency application filed on behalf of two of Shoko Asahara’s offspring.

Masao Shibata, 68, head of an anti-Aum group in Otawara, said he hopes the legislation leads authorities to investigate the facility obtained and used by cultists.

“I really want the followers to leave here,” he said, “and I don’t care if we have to buy back the facility to achieve this end.”

According to the bill, the Public Security Examination Commission, an extra-ministerial board of the Justice Ministry, can place under surveillance of the director general of the Public Investigation Agency any group whose members have carried out or attempted indiscriminate murders in the past, if the agency chief so requests. The supervisory period is limited to three years.

Every three months during this period, the targeted group must provide the director general with information about its members as well as the nature of their activities.

If necessary, agency officials will be allowed to enter the group’s facilities to carry out further inspections, according to the bill.

If the group is found to have engaged in further acts of murder, assault or other illegal activities, the commission can stop if from obtaining or using any land or facilities for its activities for up to six months.

The Public Security Investigation Agency will be permitted to consult with the National Police Agency if necessary.

If the targeted group interferes with an agency inspection, it and its members would face a fine and they could face a prison term of one to two years.

The bill also says authorities will be punished if they abuse their power.

“Compared with the Public Security Investigation Agency, police are far greater in number and will serve to investigate more effectively,” said Kosuke Hori, head of the National Public Safety Commission. “But authorities must strictly follow the law (after it takes effect).”

The bill states that curbs on targeted groups must be kept to a minimum and must not unreasonably restrict people’s basic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Usui said he was confident the planned law will not violate the Constitution.

But many others remained wary of the new legislation and its possible effects.

Shigeru Kobori, president of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said in a statement that discussion on the bill must be done very carefully and strictly because the law will regulate basic human rights in line with simple procedures.

The bill, if passed as expected, is expected to unveil the nature of the cult’s activities, but some journalists and lawyers who have closely watched Aum warn that the planned law may only force followers to go underground.

“Because it is necessary to supervise the cult, I don’t strongly oppose (the bill),” journalist Shoko Egawa said. “But young devout followers may go underground with the thought that they are oppressed, and once they become invisible, we can’t do anything.”

Tomoyuki Oyama — whose daughter, Miyako Sakamoto, her husband, anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, and the couple’s baby, Tatsuhiko, were killed by members of Aum in November 1989 — criticized authorities for not properly administering current laws against the cult to this point.

“Had police done their job properly,” he said, “current laws could have prevented the tragedies. So I can’t approve of the bill.”

Tomoo Takei, a lawyer and close friend of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, cautioned authorities against widening the reach of the new law.

“The cult invited the law on itself,” he said, “but a regulation must be made to prevent authorities from abusing the law against other groups.”

Said former cult lawyer Katsuhiko Yoshinaga: “I’ve told the cult numerous times to improve its attitude, but it never did, and so I think the cult invited this situation.”

Yoshinaga was the cult’s attorney in 1997 when the Public Security Investigation Agency sought but failed to invoke the Antisubversive Activities Law to outlaw Aum and ban all acts committed on the cult’s behalf.

“But depriving them of freedom of thought or association will not solve the problem,” he said. “It is necessary to establish a society the followers can come back to.”

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.