Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
TOKYO - A support group for victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subwaythat killed 12 and sickened thousands called on the state to provide support for suffers on Monday, a day before the sixth anniversary of the incident.
The group said it has indefinitely postponed its offer of free medical examinations for victims of the attack, allegedly committed by AUM Shinrikyo members, because the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare was reluctant to offer support.
At a news conference in Tokyo, group representative Saburo Abe said in mid-February that it asked the ministry to fund its free medical examination plan, but the ministry said it would be ''impossible.''
''Treatment for victims of sarin gas has not been established. It is thus important to build up data (on patients) every year (through examination),'' he said.
''I hope the government will act as soon as possible to provide support for victims,'' said Abe, a lawyer also serving as a receiver in bankruptcy proceedings for AUM.
Last spring, the group conducted free diagnostic services for about 360 victims of the Tokyo attack and another sarin incident in Nagano Prefecture in 1994.
He said more than 60% of those examined showed ailments ranging from headache to hand and leg numbness to sight deterioration.
Some also complained of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), symptoms of which include sleep disorders, depression and anxiety, saying they were haunted by vivid images of the incidents.
Shizue Takahashi, a 54-year-old widow who lost her subway employee husband in the Tokyo assault, told reporters, ''It's a lie to say that time heals grief.''
She said she hopes 46-year-old AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, receives the death penalty.
At around 8 a.m. on March 20, 1995, sarin gas was released inside five cars on three Tokyo subway lines, killing 12 passengers and subway workers and leaving more than 5,000 commuters sick.
Investigators believe the attack was perpetrated by AUM cultists to distract police probes into the sect, which had been accused of a series of crimes such as confinement of members who tried to escape it.
Asahara, believed to have masterminded the attack, and 13 others have been charged with murder or attempted murder in the incident. Trials are still going on for five of the 14 defendants at the Tokyo District Court.
The four others are Masami Tsuchiya, 36, Tomomasa Nakagawa, 38, Seiichi Endo, 40, who all are thought to be responsible for manufacturing the deadly gas, and Tomomitsu Niimi, 37, who allegedly drove a getaway car in the assault.
So far, the district court has handed down rulings to nine. Capital punishment was given to four, while the five others were given indefinite jail terms. The sentences for eight have been appealed.
Tatsuko Muraoka, a representative of the cult, on Monday apologized for the ''grave consequence'' of the subway attack and its ''incalculable damages to the lives of several thousand innocent citizens and causing tremendous fear and trepidation to the nation.''
The cult ''will continue making efforts at compensating and apologizing to the bereaved families and victims,'' she said.
TOKYO - On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the doomsday cult Aum's nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, survivors and bereaved families Monday urged the public to help them and not to forget the tragedy.
"The government has said that it will assist victims of the crime. But we have not received any," said Shizue Takahashi, 54, who lost her husband in the 1995 sarin-gas massacre.
"People say the time heals wounds. But that's not true," she said. "In my ordinary, day-to-day life, I feel extreme sadness about the loss of my husband."
"I just sit alone in my house and weep because I feel so empty," she said. "There are many people who are like me or who were injured in the attack. I ask the government for more support."
At 8 am on March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Supreme Truth released the Nazi-invented nerve gas in crowded subway trains, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,500.
The cult's near-blind guru Chizuo Matsumoto, whose religious name is Shoko Asahara, was arrested two months later.
He is on trial in the Tokyo district court on multiple charges -- including masterminding the subway attack which smacked of his vision of an apocalyptic war towards the end of the century.
The gassing was staged as the cult, dabbling in Indian mysticism and primitive Buddhism, was braced for a police crackdown in connection with its earlier Sarin-gas attack in the provincial city of Matsumoto, 150 kilometres (90 miles) northwest of Tokyo.
In a press conference, the survivors and the bereaved families emphasized the need for monetary assistance from the government to compensate them or to help pay for medical costs.
Last year, a private fund set up in 1999 by volunteers offered free medical checkups to 360 survivors of the attack.
"However, the fund is not able to offer the same checkups due to the lack of funding," said Kenji Utsunomiya, a manager of the fund. He leads a team of lawyers representing about 160 survivors or relatives of those who died in the attack.
"That's why the government must do something to help the victims," he said.
A woman, who was injured in the subway attack, said she still suffers from chronic migraines and emotional problems.
"Without government support, many survivors cannot receive medical checkups," said the women, who asked for anonymity. "Simple annual checkups would give many people peace of mind."
Another woman, who lost her father in the attack expressed her frustration over the slow progress in Matsumoto's trial.
"I came before (reporters) last year, telling you that I hoped for the swift conclusion of the case," said the woman, who also asked not to be named.
"This year, I have nothing to tell you because nothing has happened (to Matsumoto.)," she said. "I just feel that it has been taking so long. And it's been very frustrating."
"We want people to hear our stories," she said. "It takes a lot of courage to speak out. But we must keep telling our stories in order to keep the issue alive."
Six subway stations, which were used as targets of the attacks, will erect platforms Tuesday for bereaved families and commuters to offer flowers in remberance.
The Kasumigaseki station, whose two staff members died in trying to rescue passengers, will hold a silent prayer at 8 am (2300 GMT) Tuesday, when the attack took place, according to the Teito Rapid Transit Authority.
The Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo is crowded with central government offices and the station is one of the busiest in Tokyo during the rush hour.
"We are holding those events to mark the sixth anniversary of the sarin gas incident," said a spokesman for the authority. "It is to remind us of the incident that we must not forget."
Almost all the cult's leaders have been jailed but it is still seen as a threat to society with about 1,200 followers. It changed its name to Aleph in January 2000.
TOKYO -- Three faintly smiling faces stare out from tattered posters hung outside police stations across Japan. Few passers-by stop to look, though all know why police want the fugitives so badly.
Six years since the Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult carried out a deadly nerve gas attack on rush-hour commuters in Tokyo -- an act of urban terrorism that killed a dozen people -- the wounds it left on the country have yet to heal.
The cult is still alive and well. Police searching for the three Aum fugitives have long since run out of leads despite a $50,000 reward. And the trial of the cult's guru drags on in a Tokyo court, with no verdict expected for years to come.
``It just drags on and on,'' said Shizue Takahashi, 53, whose husband -- a subway stationmaster -- was killed in the attack. ``I may not be alive to see the end of this.''
Some 5,000 people were sickened during the attack on March 19, 1995, when cultists used umbrellas to poke holes in bags full of concentrated Sarin nerve gas on five busy subway lines.
The cultists were trying to start a chain of events leading to Armageddon, as prophesized by Shoko Asahara, their guru.
Seven followers have been sentenced to death by a lower court -- five just last year -- for crimes including a nerve gas attack that killed seven people in June 1994. Four cultists have been given life sentences.
But Asahara, 45, is still on trial at the Tokyo District Court, more than 180 sessions after he made his first appearance before the judges for allegedly masterminding the attack. Experts say it could take 10 years until a verdict is rendered, and appeals could add several more.
The length of the proceedings has been blamed on the scale of Aum's crimes, allegations that Asahara was involved only indirectly and the unwillingness of some cult members to break their silence.
The case has also underscored the fact that Japan's legal system is notoriously sluggish.
``What really slows things down is the fact that the prosecution doesn't have to put all its evidence on the table in the beginning, so the defense ends up fighting every little point,'' said Masaki Kito, a lawyer representing victims of the cult.
The cult, disbanded in a police crackdown following the 1995 attack, has changed its name and is under new leadership. By some accounts, its membership -- which dwindled from more than 10,000 before the attack to several hundred -- is back up to about 1,700.
Now called Aleph, it has apologized for Aum's crimes and started to compensate victims. A lawyer administering the cult's bankruptcy proceedings said last May that senior Aleph leaders approved a proposal under which they will pay $37.4 million.
One of the group's current leaders, Fumihiro Joyu, was released from prison in December 1999 after serving three years for perjury. Perhaps Asahara's closest follower not linked to the subway attack, Joyu is a gifted speaker with boyish good looks -- a sharp contrast to Asahara's thick features and heavy beard.
Cult members continue to worship Asahara and his teachings, which included ideas from Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and New Age beliefs, and preached that the end was near.
``The remaining members are the hard core,'' said Nobutaka Inoue, a professor at Kokugakuin University who specializes in new religions. ``Some believe Asahara wasn't involved. What's disturbing is that others accept his involvement, but don't care.''
The cult also has a steady income thanks to donations from the faithful and a chain of discount computer shops that it has run since the Aum days.
Despite its lower profile, the cult periodically finds itself in trouble with the law.
Last year, six members kidnapped Asahara's young son in an apparent leadership struggle. Police discovered plans for making nerve gas in a member's car. And a software company linked to the sect was found to have worked on computer networks for the military and government.
``They're still fixated on Armageddon, and they're very savvy technologically,'' said Raisuke Miyawake, a former organized crime specialist with Japan's national police. ``I consider them to be a threat.''
What's happened to the founder of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, his family and his followers since the 1995 Tokyo subway attack:
--SHOKO ASAHARA, 45: Aum's guru, who attracted followers with claims he could levitate, among other things, is on trial for murder and other crimes in a lower Tokyo court. In an effort to speed up proceedings, prosecutors last year dropped three of the 17 charges against him.
--YASUO HAYASHI, 43: Dubbed the ``murder machine'' by the Japanese media, Asahara's chief scientific adviser was sentenced to death in July for puncturing three plastic bags of sarin gas on a crowded subway.
--TOMOKO MATSUMOTO, 42: Asahara's wife was convicted of conspiring with her husband and other Aum disciples to kill another cult member. She is serving a six-year prison sentence.
--REIKA MATSUMOTO, 17: Asahara's daughter was involved in a brief kidnapping of his 7-year-old son last year in an apparent leadership struggle. Some cult watchers say Asahara's children are revered by followers.
--MIWA MATSUMOTO, 22: Asahara's oldest daughter was arrested last month on charges she shoplifted $175 worth of food from a Tokyo supermarket.
--FUMIHIRO JOYU, 38: The handsome, media-friendly Aum spokesman was released from prison in December 1999 and is considered the current de facto leader of the cult.
--TATSUKO MURAOKA, 50: An aide to Asahara's family, she formally assumed leadership of Aum after the guru's arrest but is regarded as a figurehead.
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