Bodyguards for life for woman who approved death sentences for Aum Shinrikyo cult

Concern followers of Shoko Asahara may seek revenge mean justice minister and her family will be accompanied by security for the rest of their lives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 August, 2018, 10:37pm

A detachment of Japan’s elite Security Police has been detailed to provide close protection to Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa and her immediate family for the rest of their lives out of concern that members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult will attempt to avenge the hanging of their leader by attacking the minister who signed his execution order.

Kamikawa gave formal approval for the execution of Shoko Asahara, the leader of the cult, and 12 of his closest acolytes found guilty of a series of crimes that culminated with the sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system in March 1995.

Those crimes included dozens of counts of murder, the production of poison gas and weapons and plotting to overthrow the government.

Asahara and six cult members were executed on July 6, with the final group of cult members on death row hung on July 26.

Police stepped up their presence around properties owned by Aleph, the successor of Aum, and Hikari no Wa, a group that eschewed Asahara’s teachings and formed an offshoot religious cult, immediately before the executions and have kept a high profile since.

While there have been no threats of even expressions of anger from either group, there are fears that people or groups loyal to Asahara’s teachings may seek revenge, according to the latest edition of the weekly news magazine Flash.

Given that possibility, government bodyguards have been tasked with protecting Kamikawa for the rest of her life. Similar protection details are being assigned to her husband, parents, daughter and grandchildren, a source in the minister’s Liberal Democratic Party told the magazine.

“The fundamental problem is that these cults still exist, they are closed off to outsiders and we just do not know what is happening or being planned inside their buildings,” said Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in politics and media at Hokkaido Bunkyo University.

“Given the group’s history, it would be a surprise to most people … if there were not cult members who are angry at the execution of Asahara and 12 of their fellow cult members,” he said.

“I think that most people agree that measures such as providing additional protection for the minister and her family are entirely appropriate in the circumstances. We just don’t know what they are thinking or what they might do.”

The issue has rekindled debate that was first held in the years immediately after the full scale of the cult’s apocalyptic plans came to light, Watanabe said, about whether Aum and any splinter groups should be outlawed by the government.

“The different groups are subject to special security measures under a law that was not previously used since the end of the war because there were concerns about whether it was an abuse of an individual’s right to religious freedom and a contravention of the constitution,” he said. “There have been many people who said that all traces of the group should be abolished and I think that attitude is particularly strong in communities that today host the cult’s buildings and compounds.

“We have Aleph’s largest facility in all of Japan here in Hokkaido and local people have been fighting for years to force them to leave because they just don’t know what is going on in there and what these followers might do,” Watanabe said. “There is a genuine fear that Asahara’s execution could act as some sort of trigger for some members and that is why it is correct for the authorities to be careful and increase security for the minister and at certain places.”