The Public Security Investigation Agency requested Monday that the Public Security Examination Commission consider whether religious cult Aum Shinrikyo can be placed under the agency’s surveillance. The request came on the same day that new legislation enabling the agency to regularly supervise or restrict the activities of Aum followers went into effect. The commission will hold a session Jan. 20 to give the cult the opportunity to express its views on the new law. The legislation does not specifically name Aum but says the purpose of the law is to impose controls on any group whose members have carried out or attempted indiscriminate mass murder in the past 10 years and whose leaders still hold sway over its members. “Aum has been active in many parts of the country, causing trouble between local citizens (living near cult facilities) and causing public anxiety,” said Justice Minister Hideo Usui, pointing out that the ministry had been ready to submit the surveillance request as soon as the law went into effect. “I believe that we have taken the first step to answer the expectations of the public.” The commission, an extraministerial board of the Justice Ministry, is to announce its decision on Aum as early as the beginning of February, as the new legislation states that it must determine within 30 days whether the group in question should be placed under surveillance. Sources close to the Public Security Investigation Agency said its action was prompted by the fact that the cult’s de-facto No. 2 leader is to be released Wednesday after three years in prison. Fumihiro Joyu, 37, is expected to assume control of Aum, creating concerns over the direction the cult might assume under his leadership. Joyu is believed to rank second after Aum founder Shoko Asahara, 44, who is on trial on charges of ordering a series of crimes by cult members. The agency pointed out in Monday’s request that Aum, which has nearly 1,500 followers, has carried out indiscriminate mass murder, such as the 1994 gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that killed seven people, and the 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack, which killed 12 and injured thousands. Asahara still exerts a major influence over followers and the cult still has the same number of members as when the crimes were committed, it said. The agency also said Aum still maintains a platform that approves murder, which is also among the conditions necessary to apply the legislation to a targeted group. As the cult meets all the conditions necessary to apply the legislation, Aum should be placed under surveillance and its activities revealed to prevent any further crimes, the request stated. If the commission approves the request, the cult must provide the agency with information about its members and the nature of its activities every three months over a period of three years. If necessary, agency officials will be allowed to enter the group’s facilities to carry out further inspections. If Aum is found to have engaged in further acts of murder, assault or other illegal activities, the commission can ban them from obtaining or using any land or facilities for its activities for up to six months.
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