CESNUR - Center for Studies on New Religions directed by Massimo Introvigne

"Japanese doomsday cultists arrested for illegal IT service"

("AFX," May 26, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - The police have arrested three members of the doomsday cult that carried out the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway on charges of running an unauthorized computer firm to raise funds for the sect, a police spokesman said.
The spokesman said cult members are suspected of sending computer experts on temporary jobs to several companies in Tokyo to raise money for the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which remains legal but under tight government watch.
Police raided 22 buildings, offices and apartments in connection to the case and arrested three cult members.
The three computer experts allegedly enlisted another man, who was also arrested, as the company's representative. He is not a cult member, allowing the firm to disguise its Aum link while doing business, the spokesman said.
'We will continue our investigation, with one particular focus on how IT firms are related to the operation of the sect,' he said.
In 1995, the Aum cult spread sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
Japan has around 1,650 Aum believers, down sharply from the 11,400 before 1995, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

"Death sentence for ex-Aum cultist stands"

("Kyodo," May 08, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - The death sentence for a former senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult has been finalized after the Supreme Court rejected his plea to change the ruling, informed sources said Saturday.
Kazuaki Okazaki, 44, who was charged with murdering a lawyer, and the lawyer's wife and infant son, as well as an Aum follower in 1989, is the first Aum defendant whose death sentence has been fixed.

"Cult pair convicted for beating death"

(AFP, April 26, 2005)

Toyko, Japan - A Japanese court today jailed a breakaway member of a notorious doomsday cult but freed her colleague for killing a woman by beating her with bamboo swords in a cult ritual.
The two followers of the Aum Supreme Truth sect, which attacked the Tokyo subway in 1995, were convicted of battering the woman to death as part of initiation training meant to beat out bad karma.
The Tokyo District Court sentenced Yoko Takahashi, 43, to six years in prison but suspended a three-year sentence on Masataka Fujibayashi, 36, because he surrendered and cooperated with police.
Prosecutors said the cult members took mind-altering drugs before clobbering the woman in a Tokyo apartment in September using swords meant for the Japanese martial art Kendo.
"Strong condemnation is unavoidable for their use of legal drugs and then battering with bamboo swords in the name of training," presiding judge Yoshimitsu Goda said.
The Aum cult gained notoriety in 1995 when followers spread the Nazi-invented nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
After the attack, the cult distanced itself from founder Shoko Asahara, a partially blind former acupuncturist who preached of a coming apocalypse mixing Hindu and Buddhist tenants.
But investigators believe hardliners have formed a breakaway cult that continues rituals such as beatings to remove karma and long baths in scalding water.
Asahara was sentenced to death last year for his role in the subway attack and other Aum crimes. His daughters say his health has seriously deteriorated in detention and that he mumbles nonsense and wears nappies.

"Security agency inspects 39 Aum-linked facilities in 2004"

("Kyodo," April 22, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - The Justice Ministry's Public Security Investigation Agency inspected 39 Aum Shinrikyo-related facilities in 2004 and later shared pertinent data with 49 municipal governments, a government report said Friday.
The report approved by the cabinet said the agency carried out the inspections under the so-called Aum surveillance law, which allows the agency to monitor any organization that has committed "indiscriminate mass murder in the past."

"Okazaki prays for souls of his victims"

by Kiyotaka Iwata ("The Asahi Shimbun," April 8, 2005)

His appeals exhausted and his execution now certain, former Aum Shinrikyo cultist Kazuaki Okazaki says he wants to atone for his crimes ``in whatever way I can'' in the time that is left to him.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected Okazaki's final appeal, leaving only the sentence of death by hanging to be carried out.
Okazaki, 44, was convicted in the slayings of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family in 1989.
The repentant ex-cultist mailed a letter to an Asahi Shimbun reporter describing his emotions as he awaited the final decision.
Excerpts from the letter, dated April 4, follow:
Seven years ago I received a Buddhist name plate with the names of the slain lawyer and his family written on it from the head priest of the Buddhist family temple of Tsutsumi Sakamoto (the lawyer he murdered with other Aum members). I had asked the priest through a friend and when the name plate was delivered to my cell, I could not stop crying.
Since then, I have chanted Buddhist sutras four times every day along with a prayer of thanks.
In the 10 years since I decided to turn myself in, I have felt the back of my throat and my chest tighten whenever I heard voices of bitterness, distress, emptiness and sadness.
Still, as long as I am living, I want to atone in some way to the victims and bereaved family members in whatever way that I alone can do.
I have prayed that I will be able to end my life by continuing to walk along the path of justness by casting one's bread upon the waters until my punishment is carried out.
It was under those circumstances that I encountered the Zen sect to which the Sakamoto family temple also belonged.
It is an ironic twist of fate that I have been saved by another encounter with Buddhism after I committed a major crime after being caught in the evil spell of Buddhism.
True Buddhism is not a dependence on teachings, but an ascetic training of heightening one's self through self-awareness.
Now, I am deeply grateful for having been saved and I pray from the bottom of my heart for the tranquillity of all those who I have come to know. Experiencing each moment of time and realizing the importance of living, I am now being kept alive through the warm support of those around me.
Until my last day, I will deeply appreciate the importance of being kept alive and continue to pray for the souls of the victims, while thinking about those left behind and hoping that their souls will feel some sense of relief.

"Japan's top court gives go-ahead to execute first doomsday cult member"

(AFP, April 07, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - Japan's top court rejected an appeal from a former officer of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, giving the green light for the first execution of a member of the sect that attacked the Tokyo subway with nerve gas in 1995.
The Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence on Kazuaki Okazaki, 44, who was convicted of killing four people before the subway attacks including an anti-sect lawyer and the attorney's wife and baby son.
Okazaki has no other means to appeal unless a court agrees to rehear the case if new evidence emerges. He is one of 13 former Aum members who has been sentenced to death.
Defense lawyers had argued for leniency, saying Okazaki was under "mind control" by the sect's top guru Shoko Asahara, who has also been sentenced to death.
In prison, Okazaki was adopted by a mainstream Buddhist monk and has repeatedly apologized for his crimes. As part of his conversion, he has become an avid painter of classical Zen themes.
But Judge Niro Shimada ruled: "There is no room for leniency as the sole purpose of the crimes were to defend the organization."
"Even though he surrendered to police, his criminal responsibility is extremely serious," Shimada said.
Okazaki was a founding member of the cult launched by Asahara, a bearded and partially blind former acupuncturist who preached a blend of Buddhist and Hindu dogma with apocalyptic visions.
Okazaki, whose trial started in 1996, said he and five other Aum members on Asahara's orders broke into the Yokohama home of a lawyer campaigning against the sect, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, then 33, and strangled him to death.
They also suffocated his wife Satoko, 29, and smothered to death his one-year-old son Tatsuhiko with a blanket in the November 1989 break-in.
Okazaki was also found guilty in the February 1989 murder of Shuji Taguchi, 21, who had tried to leave the cult after witnessing an earlier Aum killing.
Asahara was sentenced to death in February last year for crimes including the subway attack, in which cult members spread Nazi-invented sarin gas on rush-hour trains killing 12 people and injuring thousands more.
Asahara faces an appeal trial but not even the first hearing's date has been set as his lawyers cannot communicate with him. His daughters have said their father is ailing and mumbles nonsense.
Executions are carried out by hanging in Japan, the only major industrialized country other than the United States to practice capital punishment.
In a system criticized by rights groups, Japan gives no prior indication of when executions will take place, with inmates often waiting more than a decade on death row only to find out they will be executed hours in advance.

"Aum splinter group members found guilty of hiding woman's death"

("Kyodo," March 29, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - The Tokyo District Court sentenced four members of an AUM Shinrikyo cult splinter group called Keroyon to suspended prison terms Tuesday for concealing a fatal assault on a woman last September.
Junko Ikeno, 42, was given two years in prison, suspended for four years, and the other three were given prison terms of 18 or 20 months, suspended for three years.
Prosecutors had demanded that each of the four members, all former AUM members, receive a two-year prison term.
According to the ruling, the four decided to conceal the fatal assault by Yuko Kitazawa, the leader of Keroyon, and others of a 36-year-old woman, for fear that the group would receive strong criticism if the women's death came to light.
The assault was reportedly part of an alleged spiritual training activity.
The four hid the woman's body at Ikeno's house last Sept. 11, according to the ruling.
Kitazawa, 40, is separately on trial on charges of fatal assault of the woman.
"The motive is self-centered, trying to preserve the group," Presiding Judge Yoshimitsu Goda said. "They lied to the police and their criminal responsibility is grave."
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 to distance itself from its criminal image. Senior AUM cadres have been convicted of a series of crimes, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

"Village eyes preserving Aum files"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," March 22, 2005)

Toyko, Japan - The municipal government of Kamikuisshikimura, Yamanashi Prefecture, where Aum Supreme Truth prepared for the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, is considering making public various documents showing its fight against the cult.
Tuesday marks the 10th anniversary of the day police forces raided the cult's facilities in the village, located northwest of Mt. Fuji.
Some officials of the local government hope to reorganize the documents that record a series of moves against the cult and make them available for those who wish to see them.
The village itself will cease to exist in a year when it will be divided into two parts and merged with other cities and towns.
The officials are hoping to take measures to prevent the documents from being dispersed or lost after the mergers to prevent memories of the fight against the cult from fading.
The municipal government has maintained a large amount of records collected between 1989 and 1998.
These records include moving-in notifications of Aum members, documents regarding the demolition of facilities and records of public nuisances the cult was responsible for, such as causing foul smells and discharging wastewater in the area.
The various documents in eight cardboard boxes also include records of deliberations conducted by the municipal government's task force that dealt with the problems caused by the cult.
Among them are pictures and notes taken during talks in January 1992 between the mayor of the village at that time and Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 50, more commonly known as Shoko Asahara.
These documents are currently kept in the municipal government's archives.
The village will be divided into north and south sections in March next year, and the northern part, where the municipal government building is located, will be merged with Kofu and Nakamichimachi in the prefecture, while the southern part of the village, where Aum's facilities used to be located, will be merged with Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi in the prefecture.
The village's ordinary administrative documents are expected to be stored in the village's government building.
However, there have been numerous calls suggesting that the documents related to Aum should be placed in the custody of the southern part of the village.
The village hopes to suggest the idea of providing the general public with access to the documents in a discussion with Fuji-Kawaguchikomachi after April.
"It's the village's responsibility to pass down the history of the fight against Aum to future generations," said Yoshiki Shimura, the municipality's receiver general who had been dealing with the cult.
The group started establishing a group of buildings called "satian" in the Fujigamine district in the village in 1989.
Some members of the cult attacked the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995 with sarin nerve gas produced at the seventh satian in the village.
Two days later, the Metropolitan Police Department raided the cult's buildings with about 1,000 police officers.

"Japan Marks Sarin Attack 10th Anniversary"

by Komako Akai (AP, March 20, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - Government officials and survivors on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of a Japanese doomsday cult's nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway, offering silent prayers and laying flowers at a station for the victims.
At 8 a.m., about 25 officials bowed to observe a moment of silence at a subway station near Japan's government offices district - one of the Aum Shinrikyo cult's targets. They doffed their caps, prayed and left bouquets at a temporary altar for the 12 people killed and 5,000 others hospitalized in the attack.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other government officials later visited the station to pray before the altar.
On March 20, 1995, five members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured plastic bags filled with sarin nerve gas during morning rush hour.
The attack - Japan's most shocking act of urban terrorism - shattered the country's image as a low-crime haven, prompted a police crackdown on the cult, and led to tougher security measures at railway stations and airports. Many of the survivors still suffer from headaches and breathing problems, or are too sick to work.
Tatsuhide Nojiri, who was chief of one of the railway stations attacked, said he can't forget the horrors of that day.
``Even now I remember it so vividly. Frankly, I'd rather not talk about it,'' said Nojiri, who stood before a memorial plaque.
Thirteen Aum members, including the former leader Shoko Asahara, have been sentenced to death for the attack and other crimes. None have yet been executed. Asahara and others have appealed their sentences to higher courts. Three former members who are wanted by police remain at-large.
Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and 30,000 in Russia at its height. The cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph, but remains under close police surveillance and has been ordered to pay compensation to survivors and families of the dead. Its membership has fallen to about 2,000.
Critics say while the group's name has changed, its teachings and reverence for Asahara haven't.
Aleph issued a statement Sunday to express a ``heartfelt apology'' for the Aum attack and a commitment to compensate victims. It has promised to pay more than US$35 million (euro26 million) in damages to victims, though has come up with only a third of that amount.
``As a testament to this day 10 years ago ... we hereby renew our promise never to repeat an incident of that kind,'' a statement on the group's Web site said.
On Saturday, more than 100 sarin survivors, families of the dead, doctors and volunteers walked the streets between stations along one of the five subway lines attacked. Organizers said the event was part of the healing process for survivors.

"10 years on, public still fears Aum"

("Yomiuri Shimbun," March 16, 2005)

Toyko, Japan - Time apparently has done little to alleviate people's fears over the possibility of terrorist attacks.
In a poll conducted a week before the 10th anniversary of the deadly sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the Aum Supreme Truth cult, more than 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about similar attacks in the future.
The Yomiuri Shimbun survey found that more than 70 percent of respondents still had misgivings about the cult, which has been allowed to continue its activities under the new name of Aleph even after killing 12 people and sickening thousands in 1995.
To reduce these concerns, the government will have to implement measures seen to be capable of preventing a similar terrorist attack.
The survey consisted of face-to-face interviews conducted Saturday and Sunday on 3,000 eligible voters at 250 locations. Usable responses were provided by 1,795 pollees.
Eighty-four percent of the respondents said they were greatly or somewhat apprehensive about terrorist attacks such as the 1995 sarin attack, with a scant 15 percent saying they were not worried.
By occupation, salaried workers topped the list of those who were concerned, at 87 percent, apparently reflecting their higher frequency of using public transportation systems.
An average of 73 percent of those polled--77 percent of females and 68 percent males--expressed concerns over Aum. Eighty percent of pollees who said they were apprehensive about a possible repeat terrorist attack also expressed uneasiness about the cult.
Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, commonly known as Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court in February last year, but procedures to begin his appeal trial have yet to begin. In light of this, 84 percent of those polled criticized the drawn-out court proceedings while only 12 percent said were uncritical.

"10 years after Aum sarin attacks, pseudo-religions thriving in Japan"

by Tim Hornyak ("Japan Today," March 13, 2005)

Tokyo, Japan - Through the eight long years of his trial, former guru of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult Shoko Asahara said barely a word. As the court handed him the death sentence on Feb 27, 2004, he grinned and pulled faces. No apology, no admission of guilt, no explanation for what many considered Japan's crime of the century: the sarin nerve-gas attack on subway commuters nine years earlier.
At about 8 a.m. on March 20, 1995, a group of five teams of the Supreme Truth sect, which included graduates of Japan's top universities, punctured packages of liquid sarin in subway cars on multiple lines. As the colorless, odorless agent developed by Nazis spread, confused commuters began coughing and gasping for breath, their eyes and noses running, before fleeing panic-stricken through station exits. It was an invisible terror few Tokyoites can forget.
Twelve people died and more than 5,500 were injured in what was the worst peacetime attack in Japanese history. It shattered the country's image as a place free of violent crime.
Newspapers carried headlines on the cult and its investigation by police every day for months.
Asahara's punishment for the subway attack and other criminal cases involving the deaths of 27 people was a forgone conclusion: the hangman's noose. Prosecutors called him the most heinous criminal in Japanese history.
But even today, Aum and other fringe religious groups continue to make headlines while interest in Japan's traditional Shinto and Buddhist faiths continues to decline.
Founded in 1984 in Shibuya, Aum was a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist mysticism topped with millenarian teachings about the creation and destruction of the universe. For Asahara, born into a poor family in Kumamoto Prefecture and visually impaired, it was a means of controlling others and gaining wealth.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had a miserable childhood and was shipped off to a school for the blind when he was 6, where he allegedly used his limited vision to bully sightless pupils. He dreamed of being a politician, but failed in his bid to enter Tokyo University and pursued massage and acupuncture instead.
At 27, he was arrested for running an illegal pharmacy and selling quack medicine. He opened his own yoga studio, where he focused on developing extrasensory abilities through ascetic training. He claimed a 1986 trip to the Himalayas awakened special powers within him such as levitation and the capability to pass through walls.
Despite stories about demands of absolute loyalty to Asahara and harsh initiation rites at Aum compounds, his sect became one of the fastest-growing new religions in the country. Asahara's ability to lure young people who were rejected by or disillusioned with modern Japanese society was extraordinary.
Aum claimed 10,000 believers in Japan at its peak and tens of thousands more in the United States, Russia and elsewhere. But after the pajama-clad guru's attempt to enter national politics through elections in 1990 failed, Aum turned inward and focused on the coming Armageddon: Japan would suffer a devastating nuclear attack in 1997 and become a wasteland.
"Aum's history coincided with Japan's bubble economy and could be considered a by-product of that bubble," says nonfiction writer Mark Schreiber, adding that one senior Aum member estimated the cult's assets reached $1.5 billion. "Having the funds to buy property and operate ashrams gave Aum respectability, and made its pitch more convincing to potential converts. So its remarkable ability to shake the money tree gave it a spectacular growth trajectory. It seemed to materialize out of nowhere, and the public security agencies whose job is to watch extremist groups were probably caught off guard for this reason. They didn't have time to get information from former cultists or infiltrate the group until it was too late."
By the time Asahara was arrested in May 1995 at the sect's compound in sleepy Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, in the foothills of Mt Fuji, his cult reportedly had a sarin production capacity to kill millions and, according to testimony by former members, could also make anthrax and VX nerve agent.
Japan's horrified public demonstrated against Aum and pushed for controls on religious groups; the government enacted laws to place the group under strict surveillance. But Japan's flirtation with so-called "new religions," both homegrown and foreign, has continued. Regarded as a phenomenon dating to the Meiji Restoration period, Japan's new religions are contrasted with traditional Buddhist sects and shrine Shinto. The largest are Soka Gakkai, Rissho Koseikai and Tenrikyo.
Pseudo-religions grabbing headlines
The arrests of charismatic gurus in recent years for swindling followers or other crimes have underlined the appeal such figures have for some Japanese and fueled public distrust in new pseudo-religions. Ho-no-hana Sampogyo sect leader Hogen Fukunaga was indicted in 2000 on charges of milking 150 million yen out of people through bogus seminars and predictions based on reading the soles of their feet. Prosecutors demanded a 13-year prison sentence in February this year.
In the spring of 2003, a mysterious apocalyptic cult called Pana Wave Laboratory drew headlines and a standoff with police when members camped out on a mountain road in a huge caravan of white vehicles. Claiming to be fleeing electromagnetic waves harming their leader Yuko Chino, the white-clad devotees and the intense media attention they generated were a reminder that eight years after the Aum sarin attack, such sects remain a grave public concern.
Some groups inspire more curiosity than fear. Japan is home to the largest chapter among 60,000 followers around the world claimed by the Raelian group. The Quebec-based Raelians are a media-savvy, publicity-hungry organization based on the beliefs of Frenchman Claude Vorilhon, a former motor racing writer who calls himself Rael. He says aliens created all life on Earth and told him this in a visit during the 1970s. The group has courted international controversy following claims that Clonaid, a firm run by Raelian biologist Brigitte Boisellier, produced the first cloned human baby.
The movement's appeal here is not limited to the fringes of Japanese society. "Buddhism and Shinto have no meaning for me," Tetsuya Ohshima, a web designer in his 30s, said in an interview in 2001. "Japanese don't actively take part in religion. It's just a custom now. Most families have Buddhist and Shinto altars, and on Dec 25 they celebrate Christmas."
Ohshima, who studied biotechnology in college, became a Raelian when he was thinking about how to solve problems like war, famine and poverty. "The Japanese education system doesn't teach about spirituality," he added. "I'm sure that many young people are searching for how to live their lives better. I'm lucky to be able to have found that answer."
Young Japanese apathetic toward religion
Most young Japanese feel apathetic toward religion, with little knowledge of the mainstream Buddhist and Shinto faiths and no interaction with monks and priests. Shinto shrines are visited en masse at New Year's and on other established occasions, but generally as a social custom and not for genuine religious purposes. The enshrining of secular government and religious freedom in the 1947 constitution prompted a decline in organized religion, and the role of the temple is now mainly relegated to providing funeral services.
To fill the void, groups such as Shinrankai, Kenshokai and Worldmate have attracted young Japanese in the competitive belief market, according to Tokyo University religion professor Susumu Shimazono. Loosely organized spirituality and New Age movements, have gained many adherents through distribution channels such as books and seminars.
Nobutaka Inoue, a professor of religious studies at Kokugakuin University, described part of this effect in a 2003 summary of surveys on attitudes toward religion held by young Japanese as the "scenerization of traditional religion" - shrines and temples are still familiar religious establishments but are no longer visited for religious purposes.
"In Japan, there is no dominant religion now," says Inoue, "so young people tend to establish relatively freer religious ideas. Certainly the teachings of the Raelians are quite strange for most Japanese. However, younger generations have less ability to judge whether a religious group is strange or not."
Many of the new followings are closely affiliated with established orders. Shinnyoen is a new Buddhist movement founded by a priest from the traditional Shingon sect in 1936 that now claims some 800,000 followers across Japan. Believers venerate the historical Buddha as well as the Nirvana, and emphasize compassion while practicing sesshin meditation.
Joined while going through depression
Noriko, a Shinnyoen adherent in her 30s, says she joined the movement while going through severe depression, from which she was saved by a visit to group's temple in Tachikawa. She describes the movement as "true blue Buddhism," and distinguishes it from Soka Gakkai, the giant lay Buddhist group founded in 1930 that is behind the ruling bloc's New Komeito party.
"I cannot even remember my mental pain in those times," Noriko says. "I would have committed suicide if I hadn't found this teaching. The deep loneliness I had from childhood completely disappeared."
Noriko says she respects Shinto because it is the "heart of the Japanese people," but is focused on practicing Shinnyoen meditation twice a month to remove bad karma in her life. "Now, every morning I wake up with a peaceful heart like a silent lake without ripples," she says. "I never thought I'd live to see the day."
Meanwhile, Aum returns as Aleph
In 2000, Aum renamed itself Aleph to try and shed its blood-soaked image. Aleph admitted Aum's responsibility in the subway attack, apologized and promised compensation. But its efforts to distance itself from Asahara brought only limited success.
That same year, Aleph leader Fumihiro Joyu, a Waseda University graduate once considered a heartthrob by Japanese women, wrote: "We could say that former Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara was a kind of genius in meditation, but at the same time we cannot approve of the incidents his organization caused. While inheriting the superior practices of yoga and Buddhism, and the meditation method his yoga talent has left, we'd like to clearly disapprove of the incidents."
Aleph's membership was recently estimated at as high as 2,000 and monitoring of the group by the Public Security Intelligence Agency continues - as does the controversy surrounding the group. In January, a senior Aum member who had been imprisoned for participating in a deadly 1994 Aum sarin attack on Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, was found dead after undergoing "thermal training," which involved bathing in 50ºC water for long periods of time.
Ten years after the subway attack, Asahara is appealing his death sentence, and silence continues to be his strategy. In January, the Tokyo High Court allowed Asahara's lawyers to delay their submission of appeal documents until August because the 49-year-old has kept his mouth shut since 1996. He would not communicate with them and refused to answer questions at the Tokyo Detention House during more than 30 interviews since July. The case is expected to drag on for another 10 years, and some doubt whether he will ever go to the gallows.
For the victims of the gas attacks - many of whom still suffer after - effects including headaches, breathing difficulties and dizziness - some of the pain stems from not understanding why it happened. One senior Aum official testified that it was an attempt to distract police and avoid a raid on the group's headquarters, something that is surely of little comfort.
In researching his book Underground: "The Tokyo Gas Attacks and the Japanese Psyche," Haruki Murakami interviewed Aum followers and asked them whether, given the events of March 20, 1995, they regretted joining the cult. Almost all of them said they had no regrets.
In considering why this is so, Murakami's conclusion also could also be read as a warning: "In Aum they found a purity of purpose they could not find in ordinary society. Even if in the end it became something monstrous, the radiant, warm memory of the peace they originally found remains inside them, and nothing else can easily replace it."

"Car dealer found guilty over AUM-related sales of skin ointment"

("Kyodo," February 18, 2005)

The Tokyo District Court on Friday sentenced a used car dealer to a three-year term, suspended for five years, for selling atopic ointment in 2003 and 2004 without the government's authorization, in conspiracy with former members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult.
Presiding Judge Tetsuo Kamioka also ordered Kiyoshi Nakano, 37, a non AUM member, to pay a 2 million yen fine. Prosecutors had demanded four years in prison and a 2 million yen fine.
Kamioka said in handing down the ruling that Nakano exploited people suffering from atopy, but said Nakano was remorseful over his action.
The judge also said one of the reasons for the suspended term was Nakano's small degree of involvement in the crime, which was carried out on a large scale and in a systematic manner by the group.
Prosecutors in their closing arguments had said Nakano played a central role in importing the ointment, and that his involvement has a big social impact given that he conspired with a group that is under government surveillance.
Nakano was charged with fraud and violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
According to the ruling, Nakano was already importing ointment from China and selling it without government permission around May 2001. In 2002, he met Takashi Inoue, who then headed the cult's Tokyo training center, through yoga, and they began selling such drugs after Inoue proposed the idea.
Inoue, 36, is facing a separate trial in connection with the same case.
Nakano falsely advertised the ointment, saying that it contained only natural ingredients when it contained steroids. It was sold to about 900 people nationwide for a total of about 23 million yen between February 2003 and April 2004, the ruling said.
Last month, six people, including four former AUM members, were found guilty over the same crime.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000, apparently to distance itself from the tainted image caused by its past crimes. It remains under surveillance by the Justice Ministry's Public Security Intelligence Agency.

"Attempted murder victim hopes ex-AUM member is not executed"

("Kyodo," February 18, 2005)

A man whom AUM Shinrikyo cultists tried to murder in 1995 told a court on Friday he does not want one of his attackers to be executed.
Hiroyuki Nagaoka, 66, told the Tokyo High Court he does not want former senior AUM member Tomomitsu Niimi put to death. "Capital punishment may be inevitable, but if possible, I hope he could be let off it."
Nagaoka was attacked by AUM members including Niimi with deadly VX gas on a Tokyo street in January 1995.
Niimi, 40, was earlier sentenced to death at a lower court for 11 crimes, including the attack on Nagaoka and the murder of a lawyer and his family, and has appealed the ruling.
Nagaoka had told the lower court he wanted Niimi to get the death penalty but has changed his stance after meeting Niimi three times since last November.
"The defendant has changed from what he was, and he understands he committed irreparable crimes," Nagaoka told the court.

"Facts lost if AUM members executed before founder, ex-cultist warns"

("Kyodo," February 17, 2005)

A former AUM Shinrikyo cult cadre who is appealing the death sentence against him to the Supreme Court, said Thursday that the truth surrounding a series of crimes related to the cult will remain forever hidden if death-row followers of AUM founder Shoko Asahara are executed before him.
"I do not intend to plead for my life...But if the sentences on the followers become fixed before Asahara's and they are executed before him, all the unresolved issues in the AUM cases would remain unresolved," Kazuaki Okazaki said in statement sent to Kyodo News.
Okazaki, 44, was found guilty of murdering anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, 33, his wife Satoko, 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko, in November 1989. He was also found guilty of murdering former AUM member Shuji Taguchi, 21, in February 1989 when Taguchi attempted to leave the cult.
He had his first court hearing at the Supreme Court on Thursday.
Okazaki's statement said AUM followers, with the freedom to speak up during their trials, are the only option of shedding light on the AUM cases, since Asahara has maintained his silence in his trial. Cutting their chance to speak will not resolve the case, he said.
Okazaki said he does not seek a lighter sentence, but wants his sentence to be fixed on the same day as Asahara's appeal hearing.
hier klicken!
Asahara, 49, was sentenced to death in February last year over 13 cases, including the fatal 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway and the murder of the Sakamoto family.
Thirteen people have received the death penalty in connection with a series of AUM-related cases.
In the hearing, Okazaki's lawyers urged the court to review the death penalty on Okazaki, saying his surrender to authorities greatly contributed to solving the case. Under the Criminal Code, sentences on those who surrender can be made lighter.
In October 1998, the Tokyo District Court sentenced Okazaki to death, saying he turned himself in for "self-protection." The Tokyo High Court in December 2001 upheld the ruling.

"4 ex-AUM members, 2 others guilty of unauthorized medicine sales"

("Kyodo," January 27, 2005)

The Tokyo District Court on Friday found six people, including four former AUM Shinrikyo cult members, guilty of selling ointment in 2003 and 2004 as an atopic dermatitis remedy without authorization.
In handing down the ruling, Presiding Judge Satoru Hattori said the six took advantage of people suffering from atopy and "reaped huge profits."
Hattori said the six planned and ran the sales systematically without learning from AUM's past crimes. The six were charged with violating the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.
Many senior AUM members, including founder Shoko Asahara, have been sentenced to prison or death for a series of crimes, including the fatal 1995 sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo subway.
In the ruling, former AUM member Michiko Okumura, 41, was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for four years. Prosecutors demanded a prison term of 16 months.
Three others AUM members - Naoko Mori, 41, Yukiko Komiya, 31, and Nobuhiro Hanyu, 30 - were given 14 months, suspended for four years. The prosecutors demanded 14 months for each of them.
Two people, who were not AUM members, were also given suspended terms.
The ruling said the six conspired with two others, who are still facing trial, to sell ointments imported from China as drugs for atopy between February 2003 and April last year without Japanese government authorization. Ointments worth about 23 million yen were sold to about 900 people, it said.
The two accomplices are Kiyoshi Nakano, 37, a used car dealer, and Takashi Inoue, 36, who headed the cult's Tokyo training center.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 apparently to distance itself from its criminal image, but it remains under surveillance by the Security Intelligence Agency.

High court pushes back deadline for documents in Asahara appeal

("Kyodo," January 7, 2005)

The Tokyo High Court told the defense counsel of AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara on Friday that it will extend the deadline from Tuesday to late August for submission of documents needed to begin Asahara's appeal trial, the lawyers said.
Asahara, 49, was handed down a death sentence in February last year over 13 cases.
The cases for which Asahara was sentenced to death by the Tokyo District Court included the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
His lawyers had asked the high court to extend the deadline until February 2007, saying they could not prepare for the documents because they could not communicate well with Asahara.
The high court rejected the request, however, saying such an extension would be too long, prompting the lawyers to file a request for a shorter extension.
The lawyers became the defense counsel for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, after an earlier team resigned following the district court sentence.
The lawyers earlier said they were unable to meet their client at the Tokyo Detention House at first, and even after he began appearing before them in July, Asahara did not respond to anything they said to him.
Last month, the high court had told the defense counsel that it will not suspend the defendant's trial despite the counsel's claim that he is suffering from a mental disorder

Cult calls off 'hot water training' after death

(AFP, January 3, 2005)

A Japanese cult behind a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway will end a ritual in which followers spend long hours in scalding water after a sect member died in a bathtub.
Wakashio Togashi, 45, who had been a senior member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, was found dead in the bathtub at another Aum follower's house in Tokyo on Saturday, a police spokesman said.
Togashi had served seven years in prison for helping build a plant to produce Nazi-invented sarin gas used by the cult in several attacks.
"We found that he drowned to death, but the group suspects that he died from an accident while going through hot water training," the spokesman said.
Members of the doomsday cult are supposed to soak for long hours in water at temperatures of about 50 degrees Celsius.
The cult, which was renamed Aleph in 2000, said in a statement: "We have imposed a total ban on hot water training from now on."
The Aum Supreme Cult was founded in 1984 combining Buddhist and Hindu mysticism with apocalyptic visions.
The sect spread sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands in an apparent bid to ward off a police raid.
Shoko Asahara, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth sect, was sentenced to death in February for crimes including the subway attack.
He is appealing against the sentence but his lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to suspend the hearing arguing that the guru is no longer psychologically sound.
In October, four breakaway members of the cult were arrested for allegedly battering a woman to death with bamboo sticks in a Tokyo apartment in an exercise meant to rid her of bad karma.

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