Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
The atmosphere at the Tokyo District Court was tense on Monday before presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki sentenced two former Aum Supreme Truth cultists to death and one to life imprisonment.
The families of victims of the cult's lethal March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system stared sternly at the three accused--Toru Toyoda, 32, Kenichi Hirose, 36, and 41-year-old Shigeo Sugimoto, the one to receive the life sentence.
The three have been codefendants since the Aum trials started in December 1995.
Toyoda and Hirose, both of whom studied graduate-level physics, and Sugimoto, an erstwhile senior cult member, have repeatedly apologized to victims and their families and denounced the cult and its founder, Chizuo Matsumoto.
Prosecutors, however, never swayed in their determination to get the death penalty for Toyoda and Hirose and a life sentence for Sugimoto, as the prosecution believed such sentences were fitting when considering their roles in the sarin gas attack.
After entering Tokyo University in April 1986, Toyoda read Matsumoto's books and joined the cult. Toyoda specialized in elementary particle theory at graduate school. Although he passed the exam for a doctoral course in April 1992, under Matsumoto's advice, he left home to stay at Aum facilities.
Hirose, entered Waseda University's engineering department in April 1983 and graduated as the top student in the applied physics section.
After entering graduate school, he became a cult member in March 1988. The following year, he turned down an informal job offer from a major electric company to devote himself to religious activities at Aum facilities.
At their trial's first hearing, Toyoda said he would give details of the series of cult attacks.
Toyoda displayed anger toward Matsumoto in court in November last year when he was called as a witness, saying that Matsumoto was avoiding reality by seeking peace in prolonged trials. Matsumoto had been repeating ambiguous remarks.
At the closing arguments in March this year, Toyoda said that he was an accomplished villain, as was Matsumoto, who was also a "devil."
He said, "I don't have the right to live as a human being since I was not able to foresee Matsumoto's crimes."
Hirose lost his voice when he became shocked and mentally unstable after hearing the painful stories of the victims' families.
At one hearing, he said that he had to compensate by sacrificing his life.
Last month, he apologized in a letter to representatives of the victims, saying he was unable to pay debts of more than 1 billion yen that were incurred in a civil action. The debts included compensation of about 670 million yen as part of a 15-person joint obligation.
Hirose is writing a book. He reportedly said that he would like to pay the debts from book sales.
After graduating from Okayama Shoka University in March 1982, Sugimoto worked at a securities company. However, his health deteriorated and he became a yoga enthusiast.
In 1986, he joined the cult and left home. He served as Matsumoto's driver, but once tried to quit the cult.
He later returned to the cult because of his fear of Matsumoto. He was then ordered to participate in illegal acts.
The Tokyo District Court on Monday sentenced two members of Aum Shinrikyo to death for their role in the sarin gas attack in the capital five years ago.
A third member was given life imprisonment for serving as a driver during the attack on the Tokyo subway system.
The sentences were in line with demands by prosecutors although defense lawyers indicated they would appeal.
Presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki said Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, bore a grave responsibility for their actions.
He accepted that they felt remorse for their crimes but said this did not mitigate what they had done.
Despite their claims to the contrary, Yamazaki said the two defendants carried out the orders of cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto and acted on their own volition.
He said the defendants were fed self-righteous religious dogma and made up their minds to take part in mass murder.
He could find no excuse for their actions.
The March 20, 1995, attack left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.
Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, drew a life sentence for serving as a driver during the attack.
Monday's death sentences bring to five the number of cultists that the court says should be executed by hanging.
The other three members are Masato Yokoyama, 36, Yasuo Hayashi, 42, and Kazuaki Okazaki, 39.
Yokoyama and Hayashi were found to have played a direct role in spraying sarin nerve gas in the subway attack.
Okazaki was convicted of killing anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, and his wife and infant son.
Two former AUM Shinrikyo executives were sentenced to death on Monday for their roles in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subways that killed 12 people and sickened thousands, despite their pleas for lenient punishment. Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, both of whom faced charges of murder and attempted murder for the attacks, were handed the death penalty in their sentencing at the Tokyo District Court.
Also sentenced was Shigeo Sugimoto, a 41-year-old driver who helped distribute the sarin used in the attacks. Sugimoto was sentenced to life in prison.
The trial began with Presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki reading out the reasons for his rulings on Toyoda and Hirose, an act that usually precedes a stern sentence in Japanese courts.
Yamazaki judged the actions of the pair harshly, saying that they had conspired with cult leader Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, to commit the subway attacks.
The defendants admitted to the allegations, but complained that they didn't conspire with the cult guru Asahara - arguing that their minds were being controlled by him at the time.
Nevertheless, both Toyoda and Hirose acknowledged the severity of their crimes during the sentencing.
"If Matsumoto (Asahara) is an extremely wicked person, then I am also an extremely wicked person for going along with him and committing such an atrocious crime," Toyoda told the court.
Hirose also showed remorse for his actions.
"My crime deserves death," he said.
Toyoda and Hirose were the remaining two of five former cult members who had been directly involved in releasing the deadly gas to be sentenced in the district court.
Ikuo Hayashi, 53, was sentenced to life imprisonment in May 1998. Masato Yokoyama, 36, was given the death penalty in September last year, while Yasuo Hayashi, 42, received the death sentence last month.
Both Yokoyama and Yasuo Hayashi have appealed their rulings.
Yet to be sentenced for the attacks are Asahara, and three cultists suspected of assisting in the production of the sarin gas used in the attacks.
Both Toyoda and Hirose graduated from prestigious universities. Hirose, who was a student at Waseda University's science department, published articles in scientific magazines in Switzerland and the United States.
Toyoda studied in Tokyo University's science department.
Prosecutors said the pair had used their knowledge to develop killing weapons and had assisted in arming the cult with those weapons.
Hirose, Toyoda and Asahara are also accused of planning to illegally manufacture 1,000 rifles at cult facilities between 1994 and 1995.
Two Aum Shinrikyo followers were sentenced to death Monday for releasing the nerve gas sarin on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995 and for illegally manufacturing firearms.
The Tokyo District Court found Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, guilty of releasing sarin on subway trains in the nerve gas attack, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.
With Monday's ruling on Toyoda and Hirose, four of the five Aum Shinrikyo members accused of releasing sarin on the subway trains have been sentenced to death.
Presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki denounced the attack as an "indiscriminate crime in which the cultists used any means to pursue their interests" and "unprecedented mass murder that ignored human dignity." Toyoda and Hirose deserve the death penalty given the plight of the victims and their next of kin, the judge said.
The pair were also convicted for their role in the manufacturing of machineguns in 1994 and 1995 as part of the cult's efforts to build up its arsenal.
Toyoda also took part in the foiled cyanide gas attack at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and sent a letter bomb in May 1995 to then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima, wounding a metropolitan government official, the court said.
The court meanwhile sentenced Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, to life in prison for driving one of the sarin attackers to a train station and for his own involvement in the murder of two followers in January and June 1994.
According to Judge Yamazaki, Toyoda, who joined the cult in 1986, pierced two plastic bags containing sarin aboard a Hibiya Line train with the tip of an umbrella as it approached Ebisu Station during morning rush hour on March 20, 1995.
One passenger was killed and more than 500 others who were aboard the train and in Kamiyacho Station were injured.
Hirose, who joined Aum in 1988, used the same method to release the nerve gas on a Marunouchi Line train near Ochanomizu Station, leaving one passenger dead and about 350 others aboard the train injured.
Both Toyoda and Hirose were allegedly acting on the orders of Aum leader Shoko Asahara when they carried out the attack, which was planned to distract police from what appeared to be an imminent raid on the cult.
With Monday's rulings on Toyoda and Hirose, all five cultists accused of releasing the gas on the trains have received their sentences.
Yasuo Hayashi, 42, and Masato Yokoyama, 36, were sentenced to death but have since appealed the rulings to higher court.
However, Ikuo Hayashi, 53, a former Aum doctor, was sentenced to life in prison, because the court took into account the fact that he voluntarily surrendered and acted in a cooperative and repentant manner during his trial.
A total of 14 cult followers, including Asahara himself, have been charged with conspiring to carry out the subway sarin attack.
Toyoda and Hirose -- key members of Aum's science team -- also played important roles in the cult's project to manufacture 1,000 machineguns between June 1994 and March 1995. Hirose had produced a prototype assault rifle based on the AK-74 by January 1995, the court said.
Toyoda acquired a master's degree in physics at the University of Tokyo and Hirose received one at Waseda University. Toyoda, together with four other members of the cult, was also held responsible for placing bags of cyanide in a men's toilet in an underground concourse at Shinjuku Station on May 5, 1995, in a bid to distract police from their imminent move to arrest Asahara, it said. The bags were safely disposed of by a station worker before anybody was injured.
He also mailed a parcel bomb to Tokyo Gov. Aoshima that same month, wounding a metropolitan government official who opened it, the court said.
Meanwhile, Sugimoto, who joined Aum in 1986, drove fellow cultist Yasuo Hayashi to Ueno Station, where Hayashi boarded a Hibiya Line train to release sarin in the attack, the court said. Hayashi was sentenced to death last month for killing eight people in the attack.
Sugimoto also played a role in the killing of cultists Kotaro Ochida and Toshio Tomita in January and June 1994, strangling Tomita with a rope and watching as Ochida suffered a similar fate.
In both cases, Sugimoto voluntarily confessed to taking part in the killings. He drove and served as a bodyguard for Asahara, who is also said to have "prosecuted spies" within the cult.
Sugimoto's sentence marked the third ruling in which a cult follower who drove a getaway car in the gas attack was given a life term. The other two have already filed appeals.
Toyoda, Hirose and Sugimoto pleaded guilty and apologized in court to relatives of the victims.
But Toyoda and Hirose asked that they not be sentenced to hang, saying that it would be "unreasonable" for them to receive the same punishment that Asahara is widely expected to receive.
Sugimoto claimed he merely abetted in the crimes and played only a peripheral and replaceable role in the attack, claiming that the crime could have been carried out without him.
The defendants' lawyers claimed the three were merely following Asahara's orders and thus did not jointly conspire in the attack. The lawyers also claimed that the three were under Asahara's "mind control" and thus unable to refuse his orders. The judge, however, said the three spontaneously played significant roles in the crimes and thus could not escape from their grave criminal responsibility.
He also denied they were subject to Asahara's mind-control and could refuse his orders, citing the defendants' testimony that they felt a sense of guilt for carrying out the attack.
Relatives call for death
Relatives of victims of the 1995 subway gas attack on Monday called for a swift conclusion to the trial of Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara.
Speaking at a news conference at the Tokyo District Court after the day's session, in which two former cultists were sentenced to death, a 29-year-old woman who lost her 54-year-old father in the attack said delays would fuel public fears over further criminal acts.
"Everyone wants a ruling immediately. I cannot understand why it is taking so long," said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous.
Shizue Takahashi, 53, whose 50-year-old husband worked at Kasumigaseki subway station and died after removing a bag containing sarin gas from a train carriage, also called for the death penalty for Asahara.
"But I don't know whether he deserves the same punishment as others who apologized and told the truth," she said, referring to the sentences handed down to cult members that day.
A Japanese court Monday sentenced two Aum Supreme Truth cult disciples to the gallows for releasing the deadly Sarin gas in Tokyo's subways in 1995.
Here is a chronology of major events since the cult was founded by Shoko Asahara, now aged 45:
February 1984: Shoko Asahara, who claims to have been spiritually awakened in the Himalayas, founds a small religious sect in Tokyo.
July 1987: Asahara renames the cult Aum Supreme Truth with headquarters at Fujinomiya in central Japan and in Tokyo.
November 1989: An anti-Aum lawyer, his wife and infant son disappear from their apartment in Yokohama west of Tokyo.
February 1990: Asahara and followers unsuccessfully run for office in parliamentary elections.
June 1994: The lethal Nazi-invented Sarin gas is released in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto at night, killing seven people.
March 1995: Cult members release Sarin gas in Tokyo subways during the morning rush hour, killing 12 people and injuring thousands of others in an attack that stuns the world.
April 1995: The cult's "science and technology minister" Hideo Murai dies after being stabbed several times in the stomach by a 29-year-old man before television cameras in front of the Tokyo headquarters.
May 1995: Police arrest Asahara in a secret room at the cult's sprawling commune in Kamikuishiki village at the foot of Mount Fuji.
April 1996: Asahara goes on trial on 17 criminal charges.
January 1997: The government's Public Security Commission decides not to outlaw the sect, saying there is insufficient reason to believe it is still a threat with only about 1,000 full and part-time members.
October 1998: A Japanese court sentences a founding member of Aum, Kazuaki Okazaki, to death by hanging for the murder of four people including the anti-sect lawyer.
September 1999: Tokyo District Court sentences senior cult member Masato Yokoyama to hang for spreading Sarin gas in Tokyo's subways in 1995, the first death penalty handed out for the outrage.
December 1999: Parliament passes legislation allowing police to conduct raids and demand information and financial data from the sect without the need for a warrant.
January 2000: The sect changes its name to "Aleph" as part of a facelift. It promises to reform the group by appointing former translator Tatsuko Muraoka as new cult representative.
January 2000: The Public Security Commission approves a crackdown on the cult amid fears it could strike again.
June 29, 2000: Tokyo District Court sentences Aum Supreme Truth cult's Yasuo Hayashi to death for unleashing Sarin gas in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack.
July 17, 2000: The last two disciples to face sentencing for actually releasing the gas, 32-year-old Toru Toyoda and 36-year-old Kenichi Hirose, are sent to the gallows.
TOKYO, July 17 (Reuters) - Two members of a Japanese doomsday cult were sentenced to death on Monday for murder and attempted murder for a 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo underground in which 12 people died.
A third man, Shigeo Sugimoto, 41 who drove a getaway car, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Monday's ruling completes the sentencing of the five members of the Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth cult, who had been charged with spreading the sarin by carrying plastic bags containing the deadly gas onto trains and then puncturing them with umbrellas.
Another key member of the cult, 42-year-old Yasuo Hayashi -- dubbed a ``murder machine'' by the media for his crimes -- was last month sentenced to death because, the judge said, he released the largest amount of sarin gas on the underground.
Tokyo District Court Judge Manabu Yamazaki said on Monday former cult members Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, deserved the death penalty for their role in releasing sarin nerve gas in an incident that injured thousands.
The two men had admitted to the charges but argued in court that their minds had been controlled by cult leader Shoko Asahara, saying he masterminded the attack.
CRUEL AND INDISCRIMINATE
``Even if we were to take into account the fact that their minds were controlled by Asahara, what they have done is grave and deserves the death penalty,'' public broadcaster NHK quoted Yamazaki as saying.
He said the pair bore a huge amount of responsibility for what he called a cruel and indiscriminate attack.
In addition to the gassing, Toyoda was accused of attempting to kill then-Tokyo Governor Yukio Aoshima by mailing a package bomb to the Tokyo government office.
The package exploded when Aoshima's secretary opened it, blowing off all the fingers on his left hand.
Between 1994 and 1995, Toyoda, Hirose and Asahara also planned to manufacture 1,000 automatic rifles modelled on the Russian-made AK-47 and succeeded in producing one at an AUM facility, Kyodo news agency said.
Hhirose has appealed the sentence, NHK said.
Cult leader Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains on trial for organising the gassing and 16 other charges.
Asahara's trial, now in its fifth year, promises to go on much longer in what has come to symbolise Japan's notoriously snail-paced court system, with some legal experts saying it may well take more than 15 years for a final verdict.
Of the five cult members charged with the actual gas attack, four have now received the death penalty while one was given life imprisonment.
Ikuo Hayashi, 53, was sentenced to the lesser punishment of life in prison because he had surrendered himself to police and also cooperated in the ensuing investigation.
Executions in Japan are by hanging, but take place only rarely with most of those sentenced spending many years in prison.
While most of Aum's leaders are behind bars, the cult remains active, prompting the government to place it under surveillance in February for three years, a move allowing authorities to inspect all its sites.
For its part, the cult has changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- and insists it is now a benign religious group.
In the past, Aum preached the world was coming to an end and that the cult must arm itself to prepare for various calamities.
TOKYO, July 17 (Kyodo) The Tokyo District Court on Monday sentenced two former members of the AUM Shinrikyo to death and handed a life sentence to a third former member for their involvement in the 1995 sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands.
Sentenced to death were Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, after they were found guilty on murder and attempted murder charges. Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, received a life sentence.
Presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki said Toyoda and Hirose bear a huge amount of responsibility for the attack which he called cruel and indiscriminate.
Hirose's defense counsel said their client will appeal, while lawyers for Toyoda said he does not want to appeal but they will discuss the matter.
The judge said the cult started to espouse religious dogma which justified murder after its founder, Shoko Asahara, suffered a crushing defeat in the House of Representatives election in 1990.
Afterward, the cult began to arm itself and Asahara ordered a number of its senior members, including Toyoda and Hirose, to produce sarin, the deadly nerve gas used in the subway attack.
Yamazaki said the three defendants conspired with Asahara in the subway gassing and other crimes instigated by the cult.
Toyoda and Hirose are the last of the five-member AUM squad that carried out the subway attack. One of the other members received life imprisonment and two have been sentenced to death.
Toyoda, Hirose and Sugimoto had admitted to the charges against them. However, they argued that their minds had been controlled by Asahara, 45, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, whom they called the mastermind behind the attack.
The judge opened the sentencing hearing by reading out the reasons behind the sentences, an act that usually precedes a harsh sentence in Japanese courts.
Prosecutors in December sought the death penalty for Toyoda and Hirose and a life sentence for Sugimoto, who served as a driver during the attack.
The attackers targeted five trains on the Tokyo subway system March 20, 1995. During the morning rush hour, Toyoda boarded a Hibiya Line train and Hirose a Marunouchi Line train and they both released the liquid sarin, the ruling said.
Sugimoto served as a driver for Yasuo Hayashi, 42, another member of the squad.
The three defendants were also on trial in connection with various other charges. Toyoda attempted to kill then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima by mailing a parcel bomb to the Tokyo metropolitan government office in Shinjuku Ward in May 1995, according to the ruling.
The package exploded when Aoshima's secretary opened it, causing the secretary to lose all the fingers of his left hand.
During the 1994-1995 period, Toyoda, Hirose and Asahara also planned the illicit manufacture of 1,000 automatic rifles modeled on the Russian-made AK-74 and succeeded in producing one at an AUM facility.
The court also learned that Sugimoto conspired with Asahara and other AUM members to kill two AUM followers in 1994.
Of the other three men who carried out the subway gassing, Ikuo Hayashi, 53, was sentenced to life in prison in May 1998. Masato Yokoyama, 36, was given the death penalty in September last year while Yasuo Hayashi received the death sentence last month.
Yokoyama and Yasuo Hayashi have appealed their sentences.
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