Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
A Tokyo court has refused to suspend the trial of the founder of a cult that spread deadly nerve gas throughout the subway system in 1995 despite reports that his behaviour was increasingly erratic.
The Tokyo High Court said Shoko Asahara was mentally fit and told his lawyers Monday that it was rejecting their request to halt the trial, the spokesman said.
The bearded 49-year-old former head of the Aum Supreme Truth cult was sentenced to death in February and is facing an appeal trial, which his lawyers wanted suspended so he could undergo psychological tests.
The court spokesman said the chief judge in the appeal trial, Masaru Suda, had met with Asahara in prison and confirmed he was mentally fit.
The decision drew a tearful plea from Asahara's daughters who said they could not have any substantive conversations with their father in about 20 meetings since mid-August.
"I could not understand what was going on as (Father) was incoherently laughing, turning right and left, looking up and down," the tabloid Nikkan Sports quoted the second daughter as saying.
Asahara has two sons and four daughters.
Jiji Press news agency had earlier reported that Asahara's health had deteriorated to the point he wears diapers in prison.
Members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which was founded in 1984, spread Nazi-invented sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
Cult members had testified that the offences were committed under orders of Asahara, who reportedly wanted to thwart a police raid on the sect. His trial opened in April 1996.
The cult, renamed as Aleph, has acknowledged responsibility for the crimes and apologized.
Prosecutors have recognized that AUM cult founder Shoko Asahara is suffering from a mental disorder that stems from being detained for so long, but has rejected calls to suspend a hearing of his appeal case on the grounds that he is incompetent to stand trial, his defense lawyers said Monday.
The lawyers told a press conference that the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office referred to Asahara's disorder in a written opinion it recently submitted to the Tokyo High Court.
The prosecutors said, however, that it is "difficult to argue about his competency to stand trial based solely on the detention disorder," according to the lawyers.
Noting that medical checkups did not detect any brain disorder in him and that his mental disorder does not affect his daily life, the prosecutors maintained their position against allowing a suspension of his trial or a psychiatric examination, as urged by the defense.
With a meeting among the court, defense and prosecution slated for Friday, the defense lawyers said some kind of decision is expected to be reached at it.
The prosecutors inserted in their document to the court a psychiatrist's opinion that it is "natural to think it (Asahara's current condition) is linked to the symptoms of detention (disorder) in light of his nearly 10 years' imprisonment."
But at the same time, they noted that Asahara looks content when he is visited by his daughter at his cell and communicates with detention officials in his daily life.
The defense lawyers have countered this argument, saying, "A judgment should be based on a comprehensive view" and not just on a few instances. They are expected to submit their options to the same court soon.
Late last month, they asked the high court to suspend Asahara's appeal case on the grounds that he is incompetent to stand trial, saying they had met Asahara, 49, more than 30 times since July but he never gave any reaction when they spoke to him.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court in February over 13 cases, including the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Security services of Russia and Japan watch the religious sect Aum Shinri Kyo that was responsible for a gas attack in Tokyos underground, the Russian presidents representative for international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism and organised crime, Anatoly Safonov, said.
He led a delegation to Russian-Japanese anti-terror consultations that finished in Tokyo.
Safonov told Itar-Tass on Friday that the two countries security service exchange operational information on the sect.
The sides in particular discussed at the consultations how Aum uses money from its legal business, to conclude that it invests it in its enlargement.
According to Japanese mass media, at least 300 followers of the doomsday sect Aum Shinri Kyo still operate in Russia, mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The Russian delegation to the consultations stressed the need for permanent analysis of an object of terrorism for timely pre-emptive action against it.
Links of terrorists and common-law crime are of special concern, Safonov said.
Such tactical alliance gives broad possibilities to extremists, he said.
The transport security problem was also discussed at the consultations.
The Japanese delegation demonstrated to the Russians the organisation of the security system at Tokyos international airport Haneda.
The exchange of experience in this field is of practical interest both for Russia and Japan, Safonov said.
The sides discussed threats coming from different terrorist groups, in particular the terrorist net al-Qaida and its South Asian branch Jamaa Islamia.
Ambassador at large Akio Shirota led the Japanese delegation to the consultations that engaged diplomats and workers of border and customs services.
Shoko Asahara, the founder of a doomsday cult that released fatal nerve gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995, has deteriorated in health and now wears diapers in prison, a report said Thursday.
The long-haired former head of the Aum Supreme Truth sect was sentenced to death in February and is undergoing an appeal trial, which his lawyers want suspended so he can undergo psychological tests.
Prison authorities sent a document to the Tokyo High Court revealing that the 49-year-old needed constant assistance in prison and wears diapers, the Jiji Press said.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted the report as saying Asahara, who for years has suffered partial blindness, was sometimes "muttering to himself but hardly speaks."
But the prison authorities concluded there was "no abnormality regarding his remarks or behaviour," the Asahi said.
The authorities said Asahara "cannot live daily life without help," according to the Sankei Shimbun daily.
Members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which was founded in 1984, spread Nazi-invented sarin gas on the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
Cult members had testified that the offences were committed under orders of Asahara, who reportedly wanted to thwart a police raid on the sect.
The cult, renamed as Aleph, has acknowledged responsibility for the crimes and apologised.
Three members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of renting an apartment in Yokohama as a place of residence by hiding their intention to use it as an AUM facility, police said.
According to the police, Takashi Kawaguchi, 41, the head of an AUM training center in Sendai, and the two others rented the apartment for two years from December 2001.
Kawaguchi was also the head of the group's Yokohama training center at that time, the police said.
The police raided AUM facilities in Sendai, Tokyo and Yokohama in connection with the case.
AUM, which renamed itself Aleph in 2000, was founded by Shoko Asahara, who has been sentenced to death for the 1995 sarin gas attack by AUM on the Tokyo subway system, and other crimes committed by the group.
Lawyers for a former cult guru convicted of masterminding a deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways want his appeal to be suspended because he is unfit to stand trial, media reports said Monday.
Shoko Asahara, 49, was convicted and sentenced to death by a district court in February for the March 20, 1995 subway attack that killed 12 people and sickened thousands of commuters, as well as a series of other attacks and murders. His lawyers have appealed.
But the lawyers late last month asked the Tokyo High Court to suspend Asahara's appeal after a psychiatric evaluation found him unable to stand trial, public broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media said.
Asahara alternated between incoherent ranting and sullen silence in the nearly 10 years of hearings that led up to his February conviction. He has also reportedly refused to communicate with his lawyers or family members.
A psychiatrist, employed by his defense, said he believed Asahara could be suffering from a brain disorder or be observing silence as a kind of religious activity, the reports said.
The defense wants him to be tested for mental illness and treated before proceeding with the appeal, the reports said.
Officials were not available for immediate comment.
Asahara and 12 other members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult have been sentenced to death for the subway gassing and other crimes. None have yet been executed.
Aum once claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and 30,000 in Russia. Following a name change after a police crackdown, it currently has an estimated 6,500 members.
Justice Minister Chieko Nono said Friday that the law allowing surveillance of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, responsible for the deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes, should be extended beyond December when it will be reviewed.
"The public sense of crisis has not been dispelled. I would like the law to be extended," Nono said at a regular press conference.
The extension of the five-year law, instituted in December 1999, is being sought by the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency, which says continued surveillance of AUM is needed because the group poses a danger and its members are uncooperative toward the agency.
The Judicial Affairs Division and Special Committee on Public Safety of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party held a joint session recently and also gave the go-ahead to extending the law.
"Given the recent activity of AUM Shinrikyo, I think it is necessary to conduct on-site inspections of the group's facilities. Such inspections are still conducted relatively often," Nono said.
The law was passed with a stipulation that it be reviewed every five years and abolished if there is no further need for it.
The law, which does not mention AUM by name, allows the agency to monitor any organization that has committed "indiscriminate mass murder in the past."
It enables the police and security authorities to raid the facilities of such groups without a warrant, and to place restrictions on cult activities if deemed necessary.
It also requires such groups to report to the agency on the identities of its members.
AUM has tried to distance itself from the series of crimes committed by its members, including the sarin gas attacks in Nagano Prefecture in June 1994 and on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995.
It renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 -- the month in which the first surveillance period was imposed on AUM.
Public prosecutors on Thursday indicted three former members of the AUM Shinrikyo group on charges of fatal assault of a woman through religious training, the prosecutors said.
Yuko Kitazawa, the 40-year-old leader of an AUM splinter group called Keroyon, and two other Keroyon members were indicted over the death of a 36-year-old group member on Sept. 10 after the suspects allegedly beat the victim with bamboo swords for eight hours at a Tokyo apartment to remove her bad karma, they said.
Kitazawa told investigators she ordered other members to beat the victim 100,000 times with bamboo swords, investigation sources said.
The prosecutors, meanwhile, sent the case of a 16-year-old girl, arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assault, to the Tokyo Family Court, which will decide whether to seek a criminal or juvenile trial or take other measures for her.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 to distance itself from its criminal image, but it remains under surveillance by the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency.
Senior AUM cadres have been convicted for a series of crimes, including the 1995 sarin attack in the Tokyo subway.
Keroyon follows the teaching of AUM founder Shoko Asahara although the group is engaged in separate activities from AUM, according to the agency.
The Justice Ministry decides to keep a controversial law to watch over the doomsday cult.
Nearly a decade after it carried out a deadly sarin nerve gas attack in Tokyo, the Aum Shinrikyo cult is deemed "still dangerous" enough to warrant extraordinary surveillance, sources say.
As a result, the Justice Ministry plans to keep in place a 1999 law aimed at controlling organizations that committed indiscriminate mass murder.
The organization control law was established in response to shocking crimes committed by Aum, such as the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.
Because of concerns it could infringe upon the freedom of religion and other rights, the law is subject to review every five years, including its possible abrogation.
On Wednesday, Justice Ministry officials told a joint meeting of legal and security panels of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that they do not plan to abolish or revise the law when it comes up for its first review in December, according to the sources.
The panels offered no objections.
Aum Shinrikyo, which now goes by the name of Aleph, has been under surveillance by the Public Security Intelligence Agency since early 2000.
Many former senior members, including founder Chizuo Matsumoto, have received death sentences for Aum's reign of terror.
In actual fact Aum is virtually the only group targeted by the law, which enables agency officials to conduct on-the-spot investigations of its facilities and examine its account books.
Specifically, the law condones surveillance of an organization that has committed indiscriminate mass murder in the past decade and is regarded as at risk of doing so again. Only Aum fits this description, officials say.
In preparation for next month's scheduled review, ministry officials consulted legal and other experts and examined Aum's general activities to date.
Ministry officials said it was clear that some cult members still revere their former guru and adhere to his teachings. They noted that former Aum disciples involved in lesser crimes had rejoined the cult.
As a result, the ministry determined the cult possibly still poses a danger to society.
They said the ministry decided the cult still requires surveillance since it does not cooperate when its offices and other locations are searched, is inclined to try to conceal facts, and some followers embrace absolute faith in Matsumoto.
The cult, calling the surveillance unconstitutional, filed a lawsuit to have it lifted-to no avail.
In spite of that, court decisions are divided over conditions that warrant such surveillance. The key question revolves around whether authorities must show there is a "specific danger" that a targeted group is gearing up to commit mass murder when it is put under surveillance.
On Monday, a liaison group of 35 municipalities where Aum followers reside or have facilities presented a request to Justice Minister Chieko Nono that the organization control law remain in place.
"The cult is continuing with its dubious activities," the statement said."Residents have had friction with the cult and are forced to live with anxiety."
A ruling Liberal Democratic Party panel on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to a plan to extend a law allowing surveillance of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, responsible for the deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway and other crimes, ahead of next month's review of the law.
The extension of the five-year law, instituted in December 1999, is being sought by the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency, which deems there is still a need for surveillance of Aum since the group poses a danger and its members are uncooperative with the agency.
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