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A court in Japan has ordered that surveillance of Hikari no Wa (Circle of Light), an offshoot of the notorious Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, is to end. The sect is led by Fumihiro Joyu who was a high-ranking member of the sect when it carried out the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack in 1995.

Aum Shinrikyo under Shoko Asahara espoused a fusion of Buddhist, Hindu and even some Christian (Book of Revelation) teachings. This itself was nothing extraordinary in the context of Japan's new religious movements. However, Aum's practices and conduct were controversial, yet not considered dangerous by the wider public. Asahara sought mainstream recognition and legitimacy, which the affinity with Tibetan Buddhism was meant to provide.

Asahara also sought political power. Whereas most religious sects in Japan - be they Shinto, Buddhist or Christian - are part of the country's Establishment, Aum could be considered outsiders. They ran candidates in the 1990 general election but failed badly, despite their high expectations.

It was after this that Aum turned on Japanese society as a whole and adopted revolutionary goals - to overthrow the state and use terrorism to accomplish this. They began to build contacts in Russia with a view to acquire weapons, and also sought to develop chemical weapons, with a number of experiments being conducted.

So what happened after the attack? Somehow, Aum survived as a group albeit with intense public hostility towards it. Fumihiro Joyu, who performed eloquently before the media and was seen as a "moderate", took over and renamed the group Aleph. He clearly wanted to distance the sect from its violent past and the legacy of Asahara, but this provoked a split within the group between fundamentalists and reformers.

By 2007, the reformers under Joyu announced they would form a new organisation, Hikari no Wa (Circle of Light) and promote a new creed. Both Aleph and Hikari no Wa remained under state surveillance, and the public clearly remains suspicious of anything linked to Aum.

It appears now that there is a realisation that whereas the Aum fundamentalists in Aleph do remain committed to Asahara's teachings and legacy, Joyu has largely distanced his group from it all, and are no longer viewed as a threat.

None of those responsible for the 1995 attacks have been executed yet.
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