Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
("Japan Times", March 24, 2000)
The Public Security Investigation Agency raided an Aum Shinrikyo facility in Tokigawa, Saitama Prefecture, and four other locations on Friday morning.
The raids were the fourth in a series of searches that have been carried out at Aum facilities nationwide. The cult has been put under surveillance in accordance with an anti-Aum law enacted late last year.
The four other Aum facilities searched by the agency Friday were in Kanagawa, Shiga and Gifu prefectures and Tokyo. The last time inspections were conducted at Aum facilities was on Feb. 18.
According to the agency, it has conducted searches at a total of nine Aum facilities since Feb. 4, three days after the cult was put under surveillance.
Raids by the agency had been on hold for more than a month because its officials had been busy checking the membership list and assets report submitted by the cult on March 2. The submission of the documents was a requirement under the anti-Aum legislation, sources said.
The Tokigawa facility is not high on the list of important cult establishments because it is under private ownership and is not a cult training site, enabling the agency to search the other sites first.
The findings of the Tokigawa search, however, are likely to affect the decision on whether to admit children of cult members to a nearby local public school.
The facility at Tokigawa is where the 6-year-old twin girls of former senior cult member Hisako Ishii, 39, currently live. Local residents oppose the girls' admission into a local public elementary school.
In September, the Tokigawa municipal government refused to let the twins enter school citing strong opposition from local residents.
Yet central government officials, such as Education Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, have called on local authorities to accept the girls. Municipal education officials are currently considering dispatching tutors to their residence to teach them at home.
("Yomiuri Shimbun", March 23, 2000)
The Tokyo District Court on Thursday held its 150th hearing in the trial of Aum Supreme Truth cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, who is suspected of participating in 17 crimes.
Fees paid to Matsumoto's 12 court-appointed defense lawyers totaled about 260 million yen as of December, when the court held its 141st hearing.
The district court has concluded trials on a number of Aum followers who participated in the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.
According to observers, however, there has been little progress in the trial of Matsumoto, 45, also known as Shoko Asahara, and it remains unclear when his trial will end.
Victims of Aum crimes and bereaved family members have expressed a strong desire to speed up the pace of the trial.
Long cross-examination Although four years have passed since Matsumoto's trial began in April 1996, procedures have begun in only 11 of the 17 charges for which he has been indicted.
It has been pointed out that one of the reasons for the delay are the detailed cross-examinations of witnesses by Matsumoto's lawyers. Prosecutors spent about four hours questioning Yoshihiro Inoue, 30, who was summoned as a witness in a case involving the use of highly poisonous VX gas. However, the defense spent nearly 17 hours cross-examining the witness.
The lawyers spent about 47 hours cross-examining Kazuaki Okazaki, 39, over his role in the murder of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and son, over the course of 10 hearings.
They also spent about 36 hours cross-examining Yasuo Hayashi, 42, over his alleged role in the 1995 gas attack over the course of 11 hearings.
Although Presiding Judge Fumihiro Abe has often objected to their questioning claiming that some of their questions are unrelated, the lawyers would argue that their questions were necessary.
Masumoto's lawyers deny that their prolonged cross-examinations, which have caused numerous delays, are intended to buy time during the trial. Refusal to meet lawyers Since 1997, Matsumoto has refused to meet with his lawyers at the detention house where he is being held. Although he meets with them in court, few, if any, words are exchanged.
Matsumoto has often begun to murmur incomprehensible words in the midst of witness questioning and Abe has frequently ordered him to remain silent. It is also common for Matsumoto to fall asleep on the witness stand.
The court has appointed 12 attorneys as government-appointed lawyers for Matsumoto, 11 of whom have been representing him since last March. About 260 million yen has been paid to the lawyers as of the 141st session in December last year.
A total of 135 lawyers were appointed as government-appointed lawyers for the 67 Aum members indicted for participating in the cult's series of crimes. Lawyers' fees reached a total of about 440 million yen, 60 percent of which were used to cover Matsumoto's legal fees.
Opposing testimony In an unprecedented move, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office in December 1997 dismissed evidence concerning most of the 3,938 victims who were injured in sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the Tokyo subway system.
To speed up court procedures, prosecutors selected 18 victims whose injuries have yet to be proven.
Because Matsumoto and his lawyers have objected to having victims' testimonies given to police recognized as evidence, prosecutors have little choice but to question victims in court to prove that they had been injured as a result of the cult's activities.
However, an indeterminable length of time will be required if prosecutors must summon all victims to court.
But 21/4 years after the drastic decision made by prosecutors, victims of the two sarin attacks and their bereaved family members have yet to be questioned.
This is because Matsumoto's lawyers oppose questioning victims and bereaved family members, claiming that their questioning should taken place after facts were proven.
Some victims who were removed from the court hearings protested the delay. "Although we were excused from attending court hearings (to speed up the trial), we are skeptical of the situation as we do not know when the trial will end," one of them said.
(Associated Press, March 22, 2000)
Tax authorities have ordered two companies linked to the doomsday cult behind Tokyo's deadly 1995 subway gassing to pay about 900 million yen (HK$65 million) in back income tax, media reported on Wednesday.
The order marks the first time for income tax to be collected from any companies related to the cult.
The amount due includes penalties and a 5 per cent consumption tax on sales of about 8 billion yen (HK$584 million) by the companies in 1997 and 1998.
Nobuhiro Ishizuka, a spokesman for the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau, said his office could not comment individual tax cases.
Computer-related businesses have been one of the Aleph cult's biggest sources of revenue since the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
In the past, companies linked to Aleph (formerly known as Aum Shinri Kyo) consistently claimed they did not make any profits and thus didn't pay income tax.
The two companies ordered to pay the back taxes included a personal computer sales company and a computer parts wholesaler run by cult followers, the Mainichi newspaper said.
Quoting sources it did not identify, the Mainichi said the two companies stored sales data in computers and then transferred them to another office where the data were later erased.
The tax evasion was confirmed after tax officials closely examined floppy disks and other computer-related devices seized by police early last year, the report said. The group closed the two companies last June.
The cult's former guru, Shoko Asahara, is on trial on 17 murder and attempted murder charges related to the gassing and other crimes.
The government toughened its laws late last year to allow authorities to seize the cult's assets more easily and to tighten surveillance of the group.
A recent police investigation found that cult-linked companies had developed software for hundreds of Japanese companies and government agencies.
("Mainichi Shimbun", March 22, 2000)
Several victims of AUM Shinrikyo's nerve-gas attack on Tokyo's subway in 1995 are suffering from strong allergic reactions to certain chemicals, officials of a support foundation for victims have announced.
The phenomenon, known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), was discovered during a recent checkup.
Of the 84 people who were examined on March 18 and 19, one was clearly suffering from MCS while two others showed possible symptoms of MCS, Professor Masayasu Minami of Nippon Medical School said at a news conference held on Monday.
MCS occurs when the body overreacts to exposure to a small quantity of chemical substances.
("Japan Times", March 21, 2000)
The deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, Hiromu Nonaka, urged the government Tuesday to continue providing financial support for victims of the March 1995 nerve gas attack by members of Aum Shinrikyo.
One day after the fifth anniversary of the deadly gassing on Tokyo's subway trains, Nonaka told an LDP board meeting that the government should not stop financially supporting the victims.
He made the remark in reference to media reports that some victims saw their qualifications for receiving public welfare assistance revoked after they received financial compensation for the gassing.
"We should flexibly and carefully look after the people who are still suffering (from the incident)," Nonaka was quoted as saying by LDP Secretary General Yoshiro Mori.
Yukihiko Ikeda, chairman of the LDP's Executive Council, agreed to Nonaka's proposal and suggested that special legislation should be considered to secure such support for the victims.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukushiro Nukaga, an LDP lawmaker present at the meeting, promised that the government will look into the situation regarding the livelihood protection programs provided by local municipalities, according to Mori.
The 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack killed 12 people and injured several thousand. Aum, whose members either stand accused or have been convicted for the gassing, recently changed its name to Aleph.
("Yomiuri Shimbun", March 21, 2000)
Two Aum Supreme Truth-related personal computer sales companies in Tokyo were found by the Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau to have failed to report about 1.2 billion yen in taxable income, it was learned Tuesday.
The firms were identified as Poseidon, a personal computer retailer in Chiyoda Ward's Akihabara district, and SBR in Taito Ward, an importer and wholesaler of personal computer parts.
Informed sources cited some of the firms' methods of concealing income as inflating the cost of components purchases and omitting sales income from records.
The bureau is believed to have ordered the two companies to pay about 800 million yen, including an amount equivalent to unpaid consumption tax and heavy additional taxes.
The bureau is expected to open an investigation into the cult's involvement in the case, on suspicion that the two firms were forced to hand over profits to the cult, the sources said.
Total profits from the cult's personal computer sales business, including those from other companies, are estimated at about 4 billion yen to 5 billion yen a year.
According to the sources, the two firms both failed to report taxable in three trading years, up until a period ending in June 1998 for Poseidon and in April 1998 for SBR.
The bureau has identified deliberate concealment of at least some of the sum involved.
Aum's personal computer sales business grew sharply during 1996-98. Public safety authorities have estimated the sales at about 4 billion yen in 1997 and about 7 billion yen in 1998.
However, the two firms, part of the core of the cult's computer sales and procurement divisions, reported noticeably small amounts of income to tax authorities. Deficits were reported in two years of the three-year period in question, the sources said.
The two firms had disposed of ledgers and invoices that recorded their genuine trading figures, the sources said. In addition, Aum members installed as executives at the firms were working under instructions from top cult members and so were unaware of the final destination of the money.
The bureau calculated components and transportation costs based on customs clearance records of parts imported by one of the firms from Taiwan and the United States. It also estimated sales of the personal computer shop from records of money transferred to the shop's bank account by customers.
(Kyodo News Service, March 21, 2000)
TOKYO, March 21 (Kyodo) - Two personal computer-related companies affiliated with the AUM Shinrikyo religious group failed to declare some 700 million yen in taxable income in 1997 and 1998, sources familiar with the case said Tuesday.
The Tokyo Regional Taxation Bureau is believed to have ordered the companies to pay about 700 million yen in income tax, including penalties and the consumption tax, they said.
It is the first time for income tax to be collected from any of the companies affiliated with AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, according to the sources.
The two companies are believed to have declared to the tax bureau that they were in the red, which means income tax was not collected from them, the sources said.
One of the two companies failed to declare income in its business year which ended in April 1998, and the other failed to declare income in its business year which ended in June that year, the sources said.
The two companies are located in Tokyo's Akihabara region. One of them is a personal computer sales company called Poseidon and the other is a computer parts wholesaler called SBR. The presidents and employees of the two firms, which were established around 1995, are AUM members, according to police sources.
They closed their shops and became dormant after the tax bureau began investigating them in June last year, the sources said.
Poseidon tried to make its income look like smaller by getting its customers to pay their bills into bank accounts opened under a separate company's name, the sources familiar with the case said.
The tax bureau regards the company's action as tax evasion, the sources said.
SBR, from which Poseidon had bought computer parts, is believed to have failed to declare part of its sales, the sources said.
The two concerns had been able to enter their deficits of the past five years under losses, the sources said.
But this prerogative was denied them because they refused to submit their account books to the tax bureau in the course of the tax investigation, and the deficits the companies had entered under losses were regarded as taxable income, the sources said.
They had also been granted an income tax deduction on the amount of consumption tax they had paid on their purchases. But they have now had to pay it as well, the sources said.
Computer software companies affiliated with AUM were recently reported to have produced software for a number of government offices and major companies.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and other members of the cult have been tried or are on trial on murder and other charges, in connection with the March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes.
("Asahi Shimbun", March 21, 2000 )
Tribute was paid to victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway on Monday, the fifth anniversary of the gassing that claimed 12 lives and injured more than 5,000 people.
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited Kasumigaseki Station on the subway's Chiyoda Line, one of the attack sites, shortly after 11:30 a.m. with flowers.
Aum Shinrikyo, the cult responsible for the attack, now calling itself Aleph, admitted involvement in the incident for the first time late last year.
Yet problems surrounding the March 20, 1995, incident persist. Victims still suffer post-traumatic stress, much of society is furious with the cult and the trial of Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto seems nowhere near over.
``The two have been on my mind since (the attack),'' said Teito Rapid Transit Authority worker Toshiaki Toyoda, 57, referring to co-workers Kazumasa Takahashi and Tsuneo Hishinuma, who both died at Kasumigaseki.
``My life was spared,'' he said.
Also Monday, a concert to help sarin victims was held in Tokyo. On Saturday and Sunday, the Foundation for the Victims of the Sarin Gas Attack, which sponsored the show, offered free medical checkups for victims.
A Nippon Medical School physician who examined the victims said one patient suffered from increased allergies to chemicals. ``Victims who have been fine up until now may develop later symptoms. It is crucial that we keep them on file,'' the physician said. However, Saburo Abe, head of the foundation, said about one-third of 265 medical agencies recently polled are expected to scrap their charts on attack victims this year.
("Mainichi Shimbun", March 21, 2000)
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited Tokyo subway's Kasumigaseki Station on Monday and paid tribute to victims of AUM Shinrikyo's 1995 nerve gas attack to mark the fifth anniversary of the atrocity that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
"I'm very angry at AUM for attacking innocent people five years ago today," Obuchi said.
Before Obuchi's arrival, members of the cult, which now calls itself Aleph, also paid respect to the victims at the station on behalf of its current head, Tatsuko Muraoka.
One of the cultists said it was understandable that the victims of the sarin gas attack demand the dissolution of AUM, but said all AUM members could do was to "always remember the incident, and offer apologies and compensation."
They laid flowers in front of a memorial engraved with the names of two people killed there, deputy station masters Kazumasa Takahashi and Akiyasu Takayama.
Earlier on Monday, Teito Rapid Transit Authority workers at the station paid tribute to the deputy station masters and other victims by observing a 30-second silence as the clock struck 8 a.m., the time AUM members released the deadly gas and wreaked havoc on the subway system.
On March 20, 1995, Kasumigaseki Station was like a field hospital as thousands of poisoned passengers from jam-packed rush-hour trains were treated outside the station.
Takahashi saved the lives of many passengers by removing a bag releasing sarin gas from a Chiyoda Line carriage to a safer place.
"I still get tense whenever there is a report of suspicious objects found on trains," Akiyasu Takayama, a deputy master of the station and a friend of Takahashi, said.
Twelve people were killed, and over 5,500 people were poisoned as a result of the cult's coordinated attack on several subway trains. Around 2,500 victims are still troubled by various aftereffects of the nerve gas attack.
Obuchi told reporters during his visit that he is determined to do whatever possible to look after those still suffering.
by Kanako Takahara ("Japan Times", March 20, 2000)
Akira Sawaki was just another high school student when he joined Aum Shinrikyo in the winter of 1991, believing the world was full of corruption and wanting to be the one to change it.
Aum had things he was looking for in a world of uncertainty; a clear view
of the future and a sense that he could save the world, said Sawaki, a name he uses on the Internet.
The cult busied him with a tight schedule, fed him little and prohibited
him from reading newspapers and watching television because they often told ill of Aum, he said.
"We were told to abandon the individual and put priority on the group," Sawaki said.
During Aum's heyday in 1994, when the cult lynched and attacked their "enemies" with nerve gas, he said he was absorbed in the cult and went to its facilities almost every day.
Considering the hold Aum had upon Sawaki, it was remarkable that he was
able to leave the cult.
For about a year after he left Aum in April 1997, Sawaki kept to himself.
He suffered from the realization that what he had believed to be right was, in fact, drenched in wrongs, including murder, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and fraud.
"I was at a loss about what to do and suffered from an identity breakdown," he said.
He was able to talk about his experiences after joining a support group consisting of former cult members.
Many people who have left the cult, such as Sawaki, say they still suffer aftereffects of the mind control that was imposed on them.
Mind control has been a buzz phrase in Japan in recent years, but most people are unaware of its mechanism, said Shingo Takahashi, head of the Japan De-cult Council.
People's ignorance, especially those who might contact former cult members, can be counterproductive, said Takahashi, who is also a professor of psychiatry at Toho University. "It's like falling in love with someone. Once you lose that love, you are in despair." One time, according to a JDCC report, investigators tried to force an Aum member to step on a picture of cult founder Shoko Asahara during an interrogation but only
ended up strengthening the cultist's faith.
Another time, officials at a child guidance clinic allowed a cult member -- a parent -- to meet with the person's child, leaving the two together in a room. The child later returned to Aum to live with the cultist.
The council submitted the report to the government in February, asking it
to make a booklet explaining disruptive cults and the basic mechanism of mind control, and to distribute it to government officials, investigative authorities and parents of cultists.
Mind control is a way of manipulating a person's thinking without the
target being aware this is happening, according to the book "Combatting Cult Mind Control" by Steven Hassan, a former member of the Unification Church.
The decision to believe in the cult comes after the target of mind control is deprived of the ability to make a rational judgment, Hassan wrote.
But in the case of Aum, it is more difficult to escape from its mind
control because the cult used drugs such as LSD to enable followers to experience "spiritual phenomena," said Taro Takimoto, a Yokohama lawyer who has helped former members return to
He added that Aum strikes terror into the hearts of its members by
providing a vivid image of hell that makes it difficult for them to leave the cult.
Hiroyuki Nagaoka, chairman of a group of relatives of Aum members, said he believes that if the parents of cultists are determined to make whatever sacrifice it takes to bring back their child, they will always succeed.
Nagaoka, whose son was an Aum member, went to the cult's seminars and meetings in a bid to create a line of communication with his son.
"I even called Asahara 'Asahara-san' so that my son would at least listen
to what I was saying," Nagaoka recalled. "His eyes sparkled when I said it." Nagaoka also went to Tibet with his son to ask a close aide to the Dalai Lama -- the exiled Tibetan spiritual and political leader -- if he really acknowledged that Asahara had achieved the final stage of emancipation or reached a stage of nirvana, as the cult leader had claimed. But the Dalai Lama had said no such thing.
That was a turning point for Nagaoka's son.
But there are some parents who break off relations with their children, making it all the more difficult for followers who no longer have faith in the cult to leave, because they have nowhere else to go, Nagaoka said.
Aum members must hand over their assets when they become resident
followers, which also makes it difficult for them to strike out on their own, he said.
Although Aum members may leave, experts say it takes about the same amount of time as they spent in the cult to recover from the aftereffects of mind control.
Even after they return to society, former cultists face another ordeal -- discrimination.
"Some are forced to quit their jobs after public security officials inform employers that they were members of Aum Shinrikyo," said lawyer Takimoto, who is also a JDCC
He said that more than 10 former Aum members have separately discussed with him their experiences of discrimination.
In another case, a former follower could not take a test to obtain a
certain qualification after the organizer found out about the ex-cultist's previous life, Takimoto said.
Takimoto has called on the government to take steps so that firms will not discriminate against those who were once members of Aum.
At the same time, Takahashi pointed out that the government does not do enough to help former members return to society.
He suggested that the government establish a foundation that provides information on mind control and disruptive cults. Counselors should be made available so former followers can seek support, he said.
"With the new anti-Aum laws invoked against the cult, more members are expected to leave," Takahashi said. "It is about time the government took some steps and not leave the support in the hands of private support groups." Laws went into effect in December to monitor the activities of Aum. They also allow trustees to seize the cult's assets to be used to compensate those victimized by crimes blamed on Aum.
Some observers say several hundred followers have left Aum since the law took effect.
But Takahashi said the most important thing is to steer people away from disruptive cults.
The council made fliers and videos on mind control and cults and
distributed them to schools across the country, hoping young people will be aware of the methods cults may use in a bid to draw them in.
EDITORIAL NOTE (from CESNUR): See CESNUR's Web page on brainwashing and related mythology, apparently alive and kicking in Japan.
by Sumiko Oshima ("Japan Times", March 20, 2000)
Even five years after the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways, many questionsremain.
Families of the victims can't help but feel that their loved ones would be leading ordinary lives today had their commute or shift not coincided with Aum Shinrikyo's gas attack on the subway system.
Relatives of accused cult members may wonder if their kin would not be facing the gallows had Aum founder Shoko Asahara not chosen them, as alleged, to puncture plastic bags containing the lethal toxin with the tips of umbrellas in the packed train cars.
For those hearing courtroom testimony and reading through judicial documents, another nagging question has arisen: If the 1.5 liters of a bottled liquid had been discarded as planned, would the deadly attack have been carried out? The bottle containing a chemical compound that was generated during the course of sarin production was allegedly stored at the lab of the cult's top chemist,
Masami Tsuchiya, in Yamanashi Prefecture, along with bottled sarin and other sarin-related chemicals.
But after the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Jan. 1, 1995, that police had detected a sarin-related chemical in soil near Aum's Yamanashi compound, cult leaders feared an imminent police raid and ordered followers to dispose of all the substances, according to prosecution documents.
In June the previous year, sarin claimed seven lives in an attack on a residential area in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture. Judges hearing an Aum land dispute resided in the area targeted.
The order to dispose of the gas was reportedly carried out -- except for that 1.5 liters of bottled methyl phosphonate difluoride. The liquid was used two months later to produce sarin for the March 20 subway gassing.
The attack was allegedly carried out in an attempt to disrupt an
anticipated police crackdown on the cult. Five cultists stand accused of releasing the gas on five cars on three subway lines, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.
Why the intermediate product was not discarded has been one of the most puzzling questions surrounding the attack.
Prosecutors have claimed that former cult doctor Tomomasa Nakagawa secretly set aside and kept the bottle inside the Yamanashi compound "just in case" it became necessary in the future.
They further alleged that Nakagawa revealed it to the late Hideo Murai, the cult's science chief, who had reportedly pitched the subway attack to Asahara.
Breaking his long silence, Nakagawa last week denied before the Tokyo District Court that he had kept the bottle.
"It was stored by (Yoshihiro) Inoue in Tokyo ... because we were unable to neutralize it," he claimed.
It was Nakagawa's first testimony on his alleged role in the sarin gassing since his trial opened in autumn 1995.
According to last week's testimony, Nakagawa said that he took over the job of neutralizing sarin on the evening of Jan. 1 because Tsuchiya had become sick while doing the work.
Nakagawa said he decomposed all the chemicals that had been kept in the lab's draft chamber, but a bottle of methyl phosphonate difluoride was found intact several days later, along with two bottles containing VX nerve gas, in the clutter around the facility when he and Murai tried to make sure that nothing "troublesome" remained.
Nakagawa said the two talked about disposing of the bottles' contents, but the draft chamber had already been dismantled to destroy all evidence related to sarin.
Murai put the bottle in a plastic foam box and gave it to Inoue, the cult's intelligence chief, Nakagawa added.
"I was asked (by Murai) to put it in a bag," Nakagawa said.
Inoue brought the box to the cult's secret base in Tokyo's Suginami Ward
and put it into an unplugged refrigerator in a closet, Nakagawa told the court.
When he went to the base in mid-January, Inoue pointed out the closet, saying "That (chemical) was in here," he said.
Nakagawa said he saw the bottle later in the month with Inoue when they opened the box to take out one of the VX bottles.
Inoue had earlier denied that the bottle was in his custody. Asked by his own defense team over the inconsistency with Inoue's account, Nakagawa implied that Inoue was lying.
Journalist Shoko Egawa, who has closely followed the cult, said it's too early to tell whose account is more believable. "Nakagawa has just started talking, and we need to listen more to judge his credibility," she said, noting, however, that Nakagawa could be telling the truth, because the prosecutors' theory that the cult kept the chemical "just in case" was doubtful.
The discrepancy in the two top cultists' testimony will be closely scrutinized in court.
Asahara's defense team, for one, has repeatedly brought up Inoue's alleged involvement in keeping the chemical solution to raise doubts over his testimony that the sarin attack was carried out on orders from the guru.
Answering such riddles as that of the leftover chemical-containing bottle may help to reveal, at least, why and how Japan's most infamous crime in recent memory occurred, even if it offers no consolation to relatives of victims whose "what ifs" remain unanswered.
by Ginni Parker (Associated Press, March 20, 2000)
TOKYO (AP) - Japan honored the victims of a terrorist attack on Tokyo's subways in a solemn public ceremony Monday at the train station where the gassing took place five years ago. Rows of uniformed railway staff stood in silence while visitors prayed silently before a white altar set up in memory of the twelve people who died in the 1995 sarin gassing. Thousands of others were injured when the nerve gas spread through Tokyo's subways during morning rush hour. Japanese courts have found several leaders of a doomsday cult known as Aum Shinri Kyo guilty in the attack. The murder trial of the cult's former guru, Shoko Asahara, is ongoing in Tokyo District Court. He is also charged in another nerve gas attack in the central town of Matsumoto. ``I grieve for those who died, from the depth of my heart,'' said Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, who attended the ceremony along with victims and
their families. The Japanese government toughened its laws late last year to allow the authorities to seize the cult's assets more easily and to tighten surveillance of the group. At the ceremony, Obuchi said he wanted to further guarantee society's safety through stricter laws regulating the use of dangerous chemicals, according
to national broadcaster NHK. The cult behind the gassing is still believed to have more than 2,000 followers. It recently changed its name to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in an apparent move to ward off a further crackdown by authorities. On Sunday, the eve of the anniversary of the gassing, the cult issued an apology to the victims. ``On this occasion, we would like once more to carve into our hearts the errors that Aum Shinri Kyo committed five years ago,'' the cult said in a statement. The cult also promised to continue compensation payments to victims. The group has been under government observation and has been declared bankrupt. But it is believed to be raking in hidden profits from their computer software business. A recent police investigation found that cult-linked firms had developed software for hundreds of Japanese companies and government agencies. On Sunday, about 200 people in a village outside Tokyo held a protest in front of a home belonging to Aum, demanding that twin daughters of a cult member be kept out of a local school, police said.
(Kyodo News Service, March 20, 2000)
TOKYO, March 20 (Kyodo) - Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi visited a central Tokyo subway station Monday to mark the fifth anniversary of the 1995 nerve gas attack on the capital's subway system by the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which killed 12 people in one of Japan's worst incidents of terrorism.
Obuchi bowed and placed a bouquet of white flowers at a memorial at Kasumigaseki Station.
''Again I feel deep anger at AUM Shinrikyo which attacked innocent people five years ago, and offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of the 12 people who were killed,'' the premier told reporters afterward.
''A law has been enacted to restrict the activities of AUM Shinrikyo, a reliable system to prevent a recurrence of this type of crime, and the government will do its utmost to take care of people who are still suffering from the aftereffects of the incident,'' he said.
Earlier in the day at 8 a.m., the time of the attack, about 30 subway workers paid tribute to the victims by observing 30 seconds of silence in front of a flower-adorned memorial plate set up at the station.
Two of their colleagues -- deputy station master Kazumasa Takahashi, 50, and deputy station master Tsuneo Hishinuma, 51 -- died in the sarin gas attack at Kasumigaseki Station, one of the targeted stations.
''I feel apprehensive even now whenever there is any report of a suspicious object. I feel a surge in grief anew at this time,'' said deputy station master Akiyasu Takayama, who joined Teito Rapid Transit Authority (Eidan) in the same year as Takahashi.
''I offered flowers while remembering his smile,'' Takayama said after a ceremony at the station.
Five AUM members released sarin simultaneously on five Eidan subway trains, killing 12 and injuring more than 5,000 on March 20, 1995.
Several followers of AUM Shinrikyo, which changed its name to Aleph in January, visited the station to offer flowers for the victims after the ceremony.
It was the first such act by members of the cult.
They said they made the offerings on behalf of Tatsuko Muraoka, 50, head of the cult in place of jailed AUM founder Shoko Asahara.
''All the followers will keep the incident in mind, apologize for it and make progress in compensation. I think it is only reasonable'' for bereaved families of the victims to demand the disbandment of AUM, one of the cultists said. Some 2,500 people still suffer from aftereffects of the gassing.
The National Police Agency is surveying some 1,500 survivors of the gassing to see how they have been affected physically and psychologically with a view to taking measures to help them.
According to the previous such survey released in January last year, more than half of the 1,247 respondents complained of physical and mental disorders believed linked to the gas attack.
("Asahi Shimbun", March 20, 2000)
With today marking the fifth anniversary of Aum Shinrikyo's sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system, victims of the assault and their supporters say the government has done little to assist them.
``We've made many requests for aid from the central and metropolitan governments,'' said Shizue Takahashi, a representative of a victims' group, whose husband died in the attack.
``What we've been given is a questionnaire from the National Police Agency to describe our status. Our pursuit of responsibility from the bureaucracy will continue,'' she said at a news conference Saturday.
She, along with other victims and sympathizers, blasted what they called the government's unwillingness to compensate victims.
Kenji Utsunomiya, head of a legal team monitoring victims since the March 20, 1995, attack, criticized the government and municipalities for showing little support for survivors and other victims.
``The only financial compensation has come from the Aum's bankruptcy proceedings,'' he said.
Aum leaders have announced it will pay 10 million yen in monthly compensation packages to a bankruptcy administrator.
However, ``this doesn't mean we are willing to pardon the assailants,'' Takahashi said. ``We would like (cult followers) to recognize their involvement in the attack.''
Utsunomiya also said various issues concerning the government's desire to care for victims also were exposed after the gas attack, which killed 12 and sickened thousands.
On Saturday in Tokyo's Adachi Ward, a charity group, the Foundation for the Victims of the Sarin Gas Attack, began offering free consultations to victims suffering from either physical of psychological post-traumatic stress.
Examinations were made on 84 people who visited the Adachi Ward Office on Saturday.
The checkups will be offered until the end of April.
More than 300 victims are expected to visit the organization to seek help.
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