During a hearing before the Public Security Examination Commission, lawyers for Aum Shinrikyo said the cult does not fit the criteria for application of the so-called anti-Aum law, and argued that the new law violates the Constitution, which ensures freedom of religion. The hearing, held at the Justice Ministry in Tokyo, is a legal procedure required under the new law to decide whether an organization can be placed under surveillance. Aum changed its name to Aleph earlier this week. Lawyers for Aum argued that founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was no longer Aum’s leader. They also said that the cult has “destroyed” its doctrine which justifies the act of murder, and that there is no longer any dangerous element that might lead Aum members to commit heinous crimes. Authorities must be able to determine that Aum meets at least one of those three criteria to apply the law to the cult. Present at the hearing were Tatsuko Muraoka, Aleph’s new chief, Masaaki Fukuda, professor of law at Hitotsubashi University, and three attorneys. The session was open to the public. “We only want to live a peaceful religious life,” Muraoka said, adding that “cultists are human, too.” She also touched upon the nationwide animosity of people who live in places where the cult has set up facilities. “We are sorry the cult could not state its opinion on past acts earlier, which we believe led to disputes between followers and local residents,” she told the meeting. In explaining the delay, Muraoka said she and other followers had still wanted to believe that Asahara — a person she claimed provided “a great boon” to followers — was not involved in the crimes that have been attributed to them, including the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system. During the morning session, the agency requested that the commission put Aum under the agency’s surveillance for three years, claiming that the cult maintains an internal organizational structure that could lead it to commit another heinous crime. But Aum’s lawyers said the cult has already been raided by police on numerous occasions for minor offenses and that the investigations have already given authorities a good grasp of its operations. “The law is not specific about the limits on what the agency can do if Aum is placed under surveillance,” Fukuda said. “It’s worse than the Antisubversive Activities Law.” In 1997, the agency sought but failed to use the Antisubversive Activities Law to outlaw Aum and ban all acts committed on the sect’s behalf, no matter how innocent. After nearly a year of examination, the commission, an extraministerial entity under the Justice Ministry, proclaimed that the agency’s claim that there was a “clear danger” the group would carry out terrorist attacks “in the future” was not sufficient to invoke the law, which was originally drafted as a measure against leftist extremists. On Dec. 27 last year, the agency asked the commission to examine whether the cult met the conditions of the new law, enacted only weeks before. The new law allows the agency to monitor activities as well as receive information on the members of the group. The seven-member commission started the examination on Jan. 5 and is required to make a decision within 30 days. The new law 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 mass murder in the past 10 years. The criteria are that the new law can be applied to a group whose leader still exerts a strong influence over the followers and has the same members as when the crimes were committed. It must also have a platform that approves murder, and harbor the ability to perform acts that may lead to another indiscriminate mass murder. In the request presented to the commission, the agency said that the cult met all the conditions and claimed that it needs to be placed under supervision because the cult’s activities are difficult to grasp. The commission earlier this month has opened all exhibits handed in by the agency as evidence of their claims, including trial records of former senior cultists, the ruling of former Aum doctor Ikuo Hayashi, who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the subway sarin attack and other charges, in addition to investigation reports of police and the security agency. Aum earlier this week admitted for the first time that Asahara was involved in the alleged crimes and changed its name to Aleph, alarming many businesses and organizations that use the same name. The cult also said they would set up a liaison group to compensate people who fell victim to its crimes by liquidating most of its facilities and landholdings. Cult members will also offer part of their monthly earnings to the liaison group.However, experts and journalists closely observing Aum say the cult was merely trying to escape from the new law. A total 584 people lined up Thursday morning for the 35 available seats open to the public for the hearing.

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