TOKYO — It was not exactly his day in court, but doomsday guru Shoko Asahara proclaimed his innocence yesterday and denounced authorities for trying to outlaw his Aum Shinri Kyo cult.
At an administrative hearing at the Tokyo jail where he is being held, Asahara argued that his group poses no threat to society.
“Ordinary people can understand we’re not dangerous,” he said, adding that evidence against the cult is “fabricated.”
At the same time, though, the cult leader sought to distance himself from the group’s actions, saying that from 1994 on he was too physically ill to supervise his disciples.
“I wanted relief from my daily duties,” he said. “I was mostly sleeping — I was receiving intravenous feedings.”
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Taking a break?
Asahara, 41, did not specify his ailment.
Japanese authorities are moving to outlaw the cult, which is accused in the March 1995 nerve-gas attack on Tokyo’s subways that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500.
Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, already has been dissolved as a religious group and declared bankrupt, but the Justice Ministry’s public security agency wants to invoke a rarely used antisubversive law against the group, which would amount to an outright ban.
Under the measure, remaining members would be prohibited from assembling in large groups or raising money.
Asahara’s testimony at the daylong hearing was his most detailed public comment on the cult’s activities since he was arrested a year ago. He made only a brief statement at the opening of his murder trial in Tokyo District Court on April 24.
The trial is expected to take years.
Security for yesterday’s hearing was extremely tight. Helicopters flew overhead and hundreds of police patrolled in and around the jail.
Asahara was brought into the hearing room handcuffed, with a rope around his waist, flanked by a half-dozen guards. The hearing room’s shades were tightly drawn.
On the street nearby, a few cult members held up protest banners, and about 20 activists rallied against the antisubversive law.