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Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies

"Asahara children refused registration by Ibaraki town"

(Kyodo News Service, July 21, 2000)

MITO, Japan, July 21 (Kyodo) - The city of Ryugasaki, Ibaraki Prefecture, will refuse resident registration and admission to local school by three children of Shoko Asahara, founder of the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult, Mayor Takehisa Kushida said Friday.
''We will not recognize them as citizens'' because of local residents' concerns, Kushida told a press conference.
The three -- two daughters, aged 19 and 11, and a 6-year-old son -- have moved to a house in the town along with three women, according to municipal officials.
They are known to have left Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture, earlier this week under an accord with the Otawara municipal government.
The younger two were admitted to an Otawara elementary school in the spring after initially being rejected by local authorities due to residents' concerns about the cult.
Asahara, 45, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial in 17 criminal cases, including the masterminding of the 1995 sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands.

"AUM death sentences"

("Mainichi Shimbun," (Editorial) July 20, 2000)

The Tokyo District Court sentenced two former members of the AUM Shinrikyo sect to death on Monday for their roles in the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Presiding Judge Manabu Yamazaki described the subway attacks as "indiscriminate acts of terrorism carried out to sow chaos in the capital in an attempt to prevent an investigation of the sect ... the two (defendants) bear a heavy criminal responsibility for playing important roles" in the attacks.
Toru Toyoda and Kenichi Hirose helped to release sarin gas on five subway cars on three different subway lines in Tokyo, turning them into gas chambers that killed 12 and sickened more than 5,000 people.
The court has now handed down verdicts in the trials of all five men who were directly involved in releasing deadly gas in the carriages. Four of them have received death sentences and one was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The defendant who received the life sentence managed to escape the death penalty by making a full confession to police at an early stage of the investigation. But the Tokyo District Court has come down harshly on the others, handing them the ultimate penalty for the atrocious nature of the crimes that they committed.
While the death penalty has come under criticism here, life terms do not exist in practice because those sentenced to life imprisonment are usually paroled in less than 20 years. The Tokyo District Court has been forced to make grave decisions based on the severity of the crimes committed and the realities of the current system of criminal justice.
Each death penalty handed down in the AUM trials has reminded us, to paraphrase an observation made in a white paper on science and technology, that "science and technology had been used in ways that departed from their original purposes." Of the two defendants who received death sentences on Monday, Toyoda had studied physics in a doctoral program at Tokyo University, and Hirose had studied physics in a masters program at Waseda University. Why did these men, who had received high-level science training at prestigious universities, find AUM so appealing?
Toyoda and Hirose expressed remorse for their actions before the court. The court said that their expressions of remorse were sincere but ruled that both men deserve to die for their crimes. We can only conclude that their remorse came too late.
Why did the sarin gassings occur in "peaceful Japan?" Are we forced to accept the explanation that the sarin attacks were manifestations of the pathologies of modern society? Although the court is charged with getting to the truth of these crimes, there are limits to how much can actually be achieved in a criminal trial. Society as a whole must make an effort to answer these unsolved mysteries.
While verdicts have now been handed down in the trials of all of the men who were directly involved in implementing the sarin gas attacks, the trial of the alleged mastermind behind the gassings, cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto - also known as Shoko Asahara, drags on due to the tactics employed by both his defense team and prosecutors. Both sides must be reminded that justice delayed is justice denied.

"Cultists Sent to Japan's Death Row Netherworld"

by Uli Schmetzer ("Chicago Tribune," July 18, 2000)

TOKYO -- Two members of a Japanese doomsday cult were sentenced to death Monday but neither their families nor the public may ever learn the date or details of their executions.
Tokyo District Court issued the penalty of death by hanging on Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, for their roles in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and poisoned more than a thousand others. A third cult member received the death penalty Saturday.
The way Japan imposes the death penalty is in extraordinary contrast to a U.S. system under increasing scrutiny, including a moratorium imposed Jan. 31 in Illinois by Gov. George Ryan.
Japan, the only other industrialized nation apart from the United States to impose the death penalty, deals quietly, almost secretively with convicts often left for decades on Death Row.
The same court on Saturday sentenced to death Yasuo Hayashi, 42, dubbed "the murder machine" by the Japanese media for his part in gas and bomb attacks by the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, sect.
Sometime after the hangman has done his duty a terse statement issued by the Justice Ministry will state: "Three condemned people were executed today." Normally those convicted of the same crime are executed the same day.
The names of the condemned will not be included. Their families may be notified, but only after the executions have been carried out. Those about to die are given only an hour's notice, usually at 10 a.m.
One Justice Ministry explained the short notice for the condemned: "They might become emotionally disturbed."
The process of carrying out an execution is shrouded in so much secrecy that human rights groups conducting surveys have found that many Japanese are unaware the death penalty exists in their country.
All three condemned men told the court they had acted under the orders and "mind control" of the sect's blind leader, Shoko Asahara. He is on trial for masterminding the bizarre attack as well as other crimes by the cult, which predicted the end of the world and ordered its members to be prepared.
Word of the convictions may be the last the public hears about those sentenced.
According to activist groups in Japan, some prisoners are kept 20 to 30 years on Death Row, with much of that time spent in solitary confinement. Many complain of mistreatment and cruelty, sitting for weeks in a fixed position in their cell, restrained by leather belts and handcuffs.
"The rules are so strict the prisoners are not even allowed to make eye contact with the wardens," said Shinichi Ishizuka, professor of law at Ryukoku University in Kyoto.
The death penalty is applicable for 17 crimes in Japan. Since 1993 executions have usually been carried out during the summer or Christmas holiday period, when parliament is not in session and there is no chance of a public debate.
It is estimated about 35 people have been executed in Japan during the past decade, although the numbers may be higher. In September three men were hanged but their families were never officially informed and found out only by chance.
Since 1945 independent statistics show 584 convicts have been executed in Japan, and 60 are believed to be on Death Row.
In a nation accustomed to following decisions made by bureaucrats, recent pressure for more information prompted the Justice Ministry to issue the statement: "We believe the public should know about executions that are carried out in accordance with court decisions."
But the ministry insisted that while it may give advance notice of a hanging, it will not reveal who is being hanged or where.
"Thanks to outside pressure, conditions in Japanese jails are becoming better," Ishizuka said.
Still, he believes the death penalty will remain in Japan. A government survey found 80 percent of Japanese favor executions.
The family and friends of Norio Nagayama, who became a best-selling author while on Death Row, only found out he had been executed for a spree of crimes committed 14 years ago when his death was leaked to the media.
Nagamaya, whose books deal about how men can change, has become a cause celebre for those who oppose Japan's way of handling executions.
"I think this system of punishment of those who have done terrible things fits well with the psychology of the Japanese people," said Tadashi Uemtasu, a professor emeritus at Hitosubashi University in Tokyo. "In Japan it's important to be seen punishing people who have done wrong."
He said that while Europe may have a greater respect for human life, Japan had a greater sense of justice.
With the sentences Monday, four of the men held responsible for the cult's subway attack have been sentenced to die.
The two men sentenced to death Monday also were convicted of manufacturing assault rifles and sending letter bombs to the governor of Tokyo, all part of a bizarre scheme to distract police from carrying out a raid on the cult's headquarters.
Toyoda, with four other members of the cult, also was held responsible for placing bags of cyanide in a men's toilet in an underground concourse at the Shinjuku station on May 5, 1995, in a bid to distract police from their intention to arrest Asahara. Railway staff neutralized the cyanide.
Outside the court, relatives of those killed in the sarin attack clamored for the conviction of Asahara, who has been on trial since 1997 and has made more than 150 court appearances so far.
The bearded guru and his main lieutenants remain in jail, as more and more testimony surfaces about murders of dissidents inside the sect, of lynching parties and plans to carry out nerve gas attacks in the United States.
The court was told that an Aum hit squad allegedly sprayed lethal botulin bacteria on the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, but there were no casualties. The sect had claimed U.S. aircraft were spraying its headquarters with nerve gas, making its followers ill.
But court testimony indicated the sect may have released small quantities of gas itself to increase paranoia among its followers.
Asahara's sect remains active, rebuilding what was a billion-dollar financial empire of shops and computer systems.
Two months ago police said Aum members had developed software for a computer system sold to four government ministries, including the Defense Ministry and 80 major companies. As a precaution, officials dismantled the system.

"Cult duo in Tokyo gas attack to hang"

by Robert Whymant ("London Times", July 18, 2000)

Two weapons experts for a doomsday cult were sentenced to death yesterday for their role in the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground in which 12 people died.
Passing sentence at the Tokyo District Court, Judge Manabu Yamazaki said that Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, were guilty of an "unprecedented mass murder that ignored human dignity".
With yesterday's ruling, four of the five Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) cult members accused of releasing sarin gas on trains have been sentenced to hang.
A fifth defendant was jailed for life because he gave himself up and showed repentance. The two men admitted the charges but argued that they were acting on the orders of Shoko Asahara, the cult leader on trial for masterminding the attack.
The judge said that even if their minds were controlled by Asahara their responsibility for the "indiscriminate crime" was so huge that they merited the death penalty.
Toyoda and Hirose were also convicted of manufacturing machineguns in 1994 and 1995 as part of the cult's efforts to build an arsenal of automatic rifles.
A third man, Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, was given a life sentence yesterday for driving a getaway car for the gas squad and for his involvement in the deaths of two cult followers.

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Revised last: 21-07-2000