Tokyo District Court on Monday lifted government surveillance on Hikari no Wa (Circle of Light), an offshoot of Aum Shinrikyo, but left the measure in place for Aleph, the successor to the doomsday cult that carried out the deadly March 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system.
The decision represents the first time that Aum surveillance has been lifted through a trial.
In 2015, the Public Security Examination Commission decided to extend the surveillance period on both Hikari no Wa and Aleph until 2018 under the law on groups that have committed indiscriminate mass murder. The panel had viewed both groups as a single entity under the influence of Aum guru Chizuo Matsumoto, 62, who went by the name of Shoko Asahara and remains on death row. Aum’s sarin attack killed 13 people left over 6,000 people injured.
The surveillance law allows authorities to conduct on-site inspections and other checks, and obliges the designated groups to report the number of believers they have. Both groups filed legal complaints against the decision. The Public Security Examination Commission is overseen by the Justice Ministry.
The focal point of the lawsuit was whether Hikari no Wa and Aleph can be viewed as a single group spreading Matsumoto’s doctrine.
Aleph is deepening its ties to Matsumoto’s doctrines but Hikari no Wa has rejected them, the presiding judge, Toshiyuki Hayashi, said in the ruling.
“The two groups are in conflict,” Hayashi noted, explaining that they cannot be regarded as one group.
“I’m relieved that the court recognized the measure against Hikari no Wa is illegal,” former Aum spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, the 54-year-old head of the splinter group, said at a news conference. Joyu said Hikari no Wa plans to file a lawsuit against the government.
The Public Security Intelligence Agency reacted with surprise.
“The is an utterly unexpected ruling,” an agency official said.
“If the ruling is finalized, it will become difficult to understand the activities of Hikari no Wa and the public could be increasingly concerned as a result,” the official added.
Aleph has some 1,500 followers and Hikari no Wa has about 150, according to the agency.