Victims of the deadly sarin nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system urged the government Saturday to provide them with more substantial and lasting aid amid a number of people still reeling from physical, psychological and economic repercussions, taking from the experience of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We should not let the sarin attack incident fade away from the people’s memory…We have to keep on going and appeal together to the government to provide us with support measures and medical care we need,” Shizue Takahashi, representing a group of 1995 sarin gassing victims and their kin, said at a gathering on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
Takahashi, whose husband Kazumasa died in the incident at age 50 after wiping sarin from the floor of a platform while on duty at Kasumigaseki Station, recounted her trip to New York last year and found a huge gap in victim support measures between the United States and Japan.
Three members of a New York-based support group for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, who she met then, came to the pre-anniversary rally to show support and share their experiences on the U.S. government’s and community support for victims, including compensation.
September 11th Families Association Vice President Lee Ielpi, who lost his son, a firefighter, in the Sept. 11 attacks, said, “The families and rescue workers were able to band together to shape the policies of city, federal and state governments.”
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In the United States, especially in New York City, various support measures have been in place, including compensation for victims and their kin, medical care, counseling and family rooms to help in the victims’ healing.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shared his concerns with the sarin gassing victims in a letter, saying: “The March 1995 attack on innocent people in Tokyo reminds us that an act of terrorism in one place is terrorism everywhere, and that the global community must stand united in our efforts to protect and provide assistance to our citizens.”
With one of the key issues in the post-sarin attack being the lack of government monetary aid for victims, the victims and their supporters adopted a statement calling on the state to fulfill its responsibility to compensate in exchange of AUM Shinrikyo for a series of crimes AUM perpetrated, such as the sarin subway attack.
The statement, read in the gathering at the Japan National Press Club, urged Japan to draw up a special law on compensation for AUM Shinrikyo crimes that aims to collect the group’s claimable assets until the group no longer exists.
Under an agreement on bankruptcy procedure filed between AUM Shinrikyo and the victims, AUM Shinrikyo must pay about 2.8 billion yen in compensation for the Tokyo gas attack and another gassing incident that took place in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, until June this year.
But currently, only 30 percent of the amount has been allotted because AUM is apparently hard up, said Kaneichi Ono, proxy bankruptcy administrator.
Apart from that, some victims had been given an allowance as part of benefits given to victims suffering serious illness or worker’s compensation, but many victims had had to pay for their hospital fees and subsequent medical care, several supporters say.
“We should not ignore calls for compensation and not press on the victims to handle their burdens on their own because it will just alienate them from society and lead them to feel despair over society,” said Susumu Nagai, a Tokiwa University professor on human science.
Hibiki Fukui, 31, said he cannot forget what had happened to him 10 years ago and vowed to continue efforts to help ease the plight of victims who are in a worse plight than he is. He suffered from difficulty in breathing and eye problems and was hospitalized for one week.
Earlier in the day, ahead of the gathering, nearly 50 victims and their family members, together with medical and support staff for the victims, took part in a memorial walk in Tokyo.
The event was aimed at reminding the government of the situation of the victims who are still suffering from physical and psychological effects and have a therapeutic effect for the participants.
Shinichi Ishimatsu, a doctor at St. Luke’s International Hospital who treated patients at the time and continues to do follow-up surveys on them, said they were able to end the memorial walk without incident, with some people who could not go down to the site of the incident able to do so for the first time in 10 years.
Ishimatsu said though there is some state aid on healthcare such as an aftercare system set up in 1997, there is a need to go beyond this and gather comprehensive data and track the developments of all the victims over the years so as to know the full state of aftereffects in the victims.
At the moment, Recovery Support Center, which organized the memorial walk, is virtually the sole entity that looks after the medical needs of sarin victims since it began its free annual medical checks in 1996.
The sarin gas attack on March 20, 1995, was one of the worst attacks in Japan’s postwar history and greatly shattered a nation that had long prided itself on its internal security. The attack occurred around 8 a.m. in five trains on three subway lines during the morning rush hour.
Twelve people were killed and more than 5,500 others sickened. Of the 12 who died, two were subway workers at Kasumigaseki Station, where the three subway lines — Hibiya, Marunouchi and Chiyoda –intersect.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 50, was sentenced to death Feb. 27 last year for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the subway attack, that resulted in the death of a total of 27 people. His defense team has appealed the ruling.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 in an apparent attempt to distance itself from its criminal image. It remains under government surveillance.