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News Archive for March, 1999

Victims say 2,500 still suffer from sarin aftereffects on 4th anniversary, Saturday, March 20, 1999
TOKYO, March 20 (Kyodo) -- Survivors and families of those killed in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the AUM Shinrikyo cult said Saturday some 2,500 people still suffer from aftereffects of the gassing. Shizue Takahashi, 52, leader of a victims' group who lost her husband Kazumasa in the deadly gassing, cited the findings of a survey conducted by the group and the National Police Agency, pointing to the lasting psychological scars the attack left on its victims. At 8 a.m. -- the time the lethal gas was released -- subway workers and representatives of the victims offered a 30-second silent prayer for the souls of the victims and laid flowers in their memory in a ceremony held at Kasumigaseki Station. The sarin attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,300 others. AUM leader Shoko Asahara and other former senior members of the religious cult have been arrested and are on trial for alleged involvement in the release of the nerve gas in trains on five subway lines.
Playwright recounts life with "One Big Brother," San Jose Mercury News, Friday, March 19, 1999
SAN FRANCISCO -- When Charles Dederich, the late leader of Synanon, coined the phrase, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," actress and former follower Deborah Swisher took him at his word. Having lived in the controversial utopian commune for most of her childhood, Swisher turns the spotlight on her upbringing with a warts-and-all look at what it was like. Her 10-character solo show -- "Hundreds of Sisters and One Big Brother" -- at Brava Theater Center through April 4, is essentially a compendium of her childhood experiences. "'Cult' is an insulting word. You might as well be calling me a nigger," says the half-black, half-Jewish Swisher. "All I'm asking is for people to come and be the child I was, and then decide for themselves how they feel about it." Dederich, a recovered alcoholic, founded the group in Ocean Park in the late '50s as a drug- and alcohol-treatment center. Initially heralded for its high success rate, during the '60s, Dederich stopped sending patients back out into society, moving them, instead, to Synanon communities around California. Rule-breakers were treated harshly; often they had their heads shaved or wore placards that said "I'm an idiot." Parents and children were separated; children lived in dorms and were cared for by teachers known as "demonstrators." The idea was to replace the nuclear family with a larger, supportive community family. Married followers often were asked to divorce and re-couple with others. And to prevent secrets or unspoken hostilities, all were asked to participate in "The Game," loosely formed encounter groups in which participants were expected to speak freely about the faults or failings of others without fear of retribution. Now in her early 30s, Swisher says that adapting to life outside Synanon was "culture shock and Mardi Gras" at the same time. After Swisher left, the Synanon community began to unravel. Decisions by Dederich (who suffered a series of strokes and died of cardio-respiratory failure in 1997) started raising the suspicions of government and law-enforcement officials. Accusations of violence led to the end of the group -- and the start of a new life for its followers. "(Dederich) was a man who started with a great idea, but that idea changed over time," says Swisher. "This (play) is my baby, but I'm only delivering one point of view. I can't speak on behalf of the thousands of others."
Journalist warns of AUM's appeal to youths, Friday, March 19, 1999
TOKYO, March 19 (Kyodo) -- Maya Kaneko Shoko Egawa, an investigative journalist and authority on the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult, blames a lack of public awareness of the group's true nature as the cause of its newfound strength. The award-winning journalist was speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Tokyo subway gas attack, which left 12 dead and injured more than 5,300 others. "Arrest, imprisonment or execution of criminals does not mean the end of the tragedy," Egawa said. She also said Japan should learn from the experiences of countries such as France, Belgium and Germany, where groups of lawyers are tackling similar problems involving religious groups. Egawa won the prestigious Kan Kikuchi Award in 1995 for her investigative reporting on the cult.
Heaven's Gate anniversary approaches, Friday, March 19, 1999
(Reuters) On March 26, 1997, the bodies of 39 people, dressed alike and lying on mattresses or cots, were found scattered through a million-dollar California mansion. The cult members died in a mass suicide.
Aum cult's quiet comeback causing new concerns in Japan, Sunday, March 14
KITAMIMAKI, Japan (AP) -- Approaching the fourth anniversary of the deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult is coming back to life. The group has been buying up real estate across Japan to re-establish itself. Police say members are once again preparing for the Armageddon they have been promised will come this year by their jailed messiah -- Shoko Asahara. Aum was stripped of its legal status and tax privileges as a religious organization, but the government concluded it was no longer a threat and stopped short of using an anti-subversion law to ban it. According to the guru's teachings, Judgment Day will come on either Sept. 2 or 3 and only cult members will survive. Aum has significantly increased its fundraising activities. Last year, its computer sales earned it more than $57.5 million. And in the final four months of 1998, it earned at least $221,900 from 310 seminars attended by 7,000 people, the report said. One of Asahara's closest and most charismatic disciples, Fumihiro Joyu, is expected to be freed as early as November after serving time for forgery and other minor charges from a 1990 land deal. His return could be a big boost to Aum. While Asahara's teachings still dominate the cult's Web site, Joyu, who served as the cult's spokesman before his arrest, is also featured prominently.
Dozens of smaller parties jump into election in Israel, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 14, 1999
JERUSALEM -- The leadership of Israel's tiny Natural Law Party, affiliated with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation movement, wants the government to establish a standing body of 5,000 to 10,000 experts in "yogic flying," a Transcendental Meditation technique in which practitioners "jump like frogs." The more meditators the merrier, or at least the more positive and peaceful their likely effect on the fractious Middle East. The party also believes group meditation can reduce crime and disease and boost the economy.

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