Joyu may regain 2nd-highest Aum rank

The Yomiuri Shimbun/Daily Yomiuri - Japan/August 11, 2001

The Aum Supreme Truth cult is considering appointing its senior leader Fumihiro Joyu to the cult's second highest position of seitaishi (great teacher), a move that may eventually lead to his heading the group, sources said Friday.

The religious cult reportedly admitted it was considering the reappointment and that a decision on the issue was expected between late this month and next month.

In response, public safety officials were placed on alert, as the move could signal the religious cult's intention to unite Aum members under Joyu's leadership. Victims of Aum-related crimes also voiced their opposition to the news.

The seitaishi is ranked second only to the cult's founder, Chizuo Matsumoto, 46, more widely known as Shoko Asahara.

Previous seitaishi have included Hideo Murai--who was stabbed to death by a gang member in front of the cult's headquarters in Minami Aoyama, Tokyo, on April 23, 1995--as well as Matsumoto's wife Tomoko and Matsumoto's third daughter, 18.

Tatsuko Muraoka, 51, a current acting representative of the cult, and other current high-ranking officials have the title seigoshi, which ranks below seitaishi.

Following his release from prison in late 1999, the 38-year-old Joyu reportedly expressed his desire to reclaim the title of seitaishi, saying he deeply regretted the sins he had committed and would assume all responsibility for them. The cult accepted Joyu's proposal as he vowed to never sin again.

However, observers at the time were of the opinion that Joyu's move was intended to avoid the application of a law controlling the activities of dangerous organizations. The National Public Safety Commission was at the time discussing the possible application of the law to Aum.

Aum said it began discussing the idea of reappointing Joyu to the seitaishi position after realizing in June that it needed an influential leader to reform its internal structure. It also said it would need someone to replace Muraoka, as she would be leaving for an intensive training session. In response, safety commission officials said the move was intended to strengthen Joyu's presence in the cult and to overhaul its entire organization.

Hiroyuki Nagaoka, 63, a representative of victims of Aum-involved crimes, said that despite the cult's pledge to reform itself, its internal structure had changed little. "It would be very dangerous if Joyu, a direct subordinate of the guru, exploits the seitaishi title in leading cult members," Nagaoka said.

Tomoo Takei, a lawyer acting on behalf of Aum-related crime victims, said that a Joyu reappointment to the seitaishi position would exasperate the victims.

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