Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
Shoko Asahara, the founder of the doomsday cult AUM Shinrikyo could escape punishment for masterminding the cult's crimes on the grounds that he is mentally unstable, the Mainichi has learned. Asahara is on trial in the Tokyo District Court on 13 charges, including some relating to AUM's infamous Tokyo subway poison gas attack that killed 12 people, and other crimes. His defense lawyers have asked that the guru undergo psychiatric tests and are expected to argue that Asahara has suffered a mental disorder due to his long-term detention. If Asahara is proven to be mentally incapacitated, he will, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, escape punishment for the 13 charges, including murder. But if he is found to have feigned mental illness, his defense will suffer a body blow. "It can save or finish (Asahara)," a member of the defense team admitted. Asahara's trial will be halted for about six months if the court grants the lawyers' request, made nearly four years after the start of Asahara's trial. The lawyers have been criticized for apparently prolonging the trial after the courts found Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, responsible for the AUM attacks during the trials of other cult members. The guru has blamed his disciples for the offenses. Coinciding with the time that his trusted disciples were in turn pointing the finger at their guru during their respective trials, from around the autumn of 1996, Asahara increasingly began to act erratically in the court. His lawyers said they had been unable to fully communicate with him from around April 1997 and his mental state had reached the point where he should undergo psychiatric testing. "It is impossible to judge whether he is capable of recognizing his current position and is fit to stand trial without undergoing expert analysis," one of the defense lawyers said. In preparation for making the request, the lawyers have asked the court to inform them how Asahara is spending his time in his cell. The Tokyo Detention Center replied that there is nothing remarkable about his conduct. It is likely that the defense team will file the request following the conclusion of prosecutors' arguments. Hideo Hosaki, a top psychiatrist who examined pedophile serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, said that the results of mental tests may trigger another round of endless debate in the court. "You have to study everything about his behavior, not only his conduct in the courtroom but how he behaves in the detention center, to see whether he is mentally affected by his life in custody," Hosaki said. "Moreover, he is a guru, and his background totally differs from that of normal persons on which medical judgements are based on. Whatever the result, it is a distinct possibility that the trial will run on and on." Makoto Oda, a professor at International University of Health and Welfare in Tochigi Prefecture who examined an accused AUM member, believes Asahara should undergo the tests. "I've heard a rumor that Matsumoto once asked his lawyers if it is possible to escape prosecution by feigning a mental disorder. So, if the mental examination can clear things up, it must be done," Oda said.
Lawyers for the founder of Japan's Aum Supreme Truth sect, responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, are considering whether to conduct tests to see if he is insane, reports said Wednesday.
"The defendant's lawyers ... are considering applying to the Tokyo District Court for a psychiatric examination to be conducted" on Shoko Asahara, the daily Mainichi Shimbun reported.
"There is a possibility the defendant might have developed a psychological disorder, and lost his capacity to be tried because of his mental reaction to custody," Asahara's lawyers told the Mainichi Shimbun.
Defence lawyers were not immediately available for comment.
Created by Asahara, a charismatic, half-blind man, the sect shocked the world when Asahara's disciples released Nazi-invented sarin gas in the Tokyo subway on March 20 1995 to avenge a police crackdown on the cult.
The subway gassing killed 12 people and injured thousands of others.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was arrested on May 16 1995 and has been held in custody ever since, but the authorities have said they believe he still has a firm grip on the sect.
The self-styled guru is on trial facing multiple charges including murder for masterminding the subway attack.
"If the examination finds the defendant Matsumoto is not (mentally) capable of standing trial, the lawyers will ask the district court to halt the trial procedure," the paper said.
"There is a possibility that the trial procedure will be stopped and his capacity to take responsibility will also be challenged," by the defence lawyers Jiji Press reported.
The prosecution's case in the trial which started on April 24 1996 is expected to wind up by the end of this year, Jiji Press said.
The sect, which has escaped being banned outright, admitted its involvement in the subway attack for the first time in December 1999 and apologised to the victims.
In January 2000 it changed its name to Aleph as part of a facelift and now has about 1,200 followers.
Although virtually all the cult's leaders at the time of the attack have been jailed, the government said the group still poses a threat to Japanese society and security authorities remain vigilant, with police periodically mounting raids on the sect's property.
MITO, Japan - About 1,000 residents attended a rally in the town of Sanwa, Ibaraki Prefecture on Sunday, demanding the AUM Shinrikyo cult leave the town, where it continues to maintain a facility despite the expiry of the land lease at the end of February.
Sanwa Mayor Kijyuro Tateno said at the rally that townspeople should join forces to get the cult to leave their town. He later delivered letters of request to that effect to AUM spokesman Hiroshi Araki and other AUM members.
Araki responded that AUM has apologized for ''past incidents'' and taken remedial steps.
After the rally, about 20 local residents held a meeting with Araki, who angered the townspeople by saying that the cult's apology had not been aimed at seeking the town's ''pardon.''
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and numerous followers have been tried on a number of counts, including charges in connection with the March 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, which killed 12 people and injured thousands. The group now calls itself Aleph.
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