An Aum Shinrikyo cultist serving a life term in Gifu Prison for his role in the fatal 1995 Tokyo nerve gas attacks is suing because the prison has limited the number of cult books he can keep in his cell.
Koichi Kitamura, 37, a former senior member of the cult, argues the books–sermons by Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto–are religious scriptures and thus by government rules he should have freer access to them.
Prisoners are allowed to keep religious scriptures, dictionaries and other study materials in their cells, beyond the government-imposed limit of three books at a time.
But Gifu Prison, where Kitamura is serving his term for murder and attempted murder, does not agree the Aum texts are scriptures.
The prison says Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, is not recognized as a religious corporation so its founder’s words cannot be regarded as religious.
In his suit filed with the Tokyo District Court in December, Kitamura denounces the prison’s decision as discriminatory.
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He argues it is against the Constitution to make such a distinction on the basis of a group’s status.
He is demanding 1 million yen in compensation from the government as well as recognition of the books as religious scriptures.
Kitamura was convicted for his role in the Tokyo sarin nerve gas attacks in the subways that killed 12 people and sickened thousands more.
He drove another Aum member who released the gas in a crowded subway train to and from the attack.
Kitamura’s life sentence was finalized in 2003, when the Supreme Court rejected his appeal.
According to the lawsuit, Kitamura tried to keep in his cell a series of four books containing Matsumoto’s sermons.
But Gifu Prison workers decided the sermons were “general” books and allowed him to keep only three.
Kitamura has since kept the three books as “indispensable for my faith.”
That prevents him from reading other books or magazines in his cell, let alone the fourth in the series, according to his lawyer.
During his criminal trial, Kitamura once said he would quit Aum, but later vowed his faith again in the founder.
Matsumoto, 50, convicted of murder and other charges, is appealing his death sentence.
Gifu Prison declined to comment.
Each prison can set its individual rules on the number of religious scriptures and study materials it allows prisoners to keep in their cells.
Asked how they treat Aum sermons, some prisons said they make the decision on a case-by-case basis.
The Justice Ministry denied it gave any instructions concerning Aum books, but a senior official said, “A line must be drawn somewhere.
“There would be no end if inmates begin to insist ‘this is a scripture to me’ on this book or that,” the official said.