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Prosecutors expected to demand death penalty for Aum founder • Thursday April 24, 2003

Kyodo (Japan), Apr. 24, 2003

TOKYO Seven years to the day after the trial of Aum Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara began on cases including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, prosecutors are expected to demand the death penalty for him on Thursday.

The 254th hearing will begin at 10 a.m., but prosecutors are likely to make the demand in the late afternoon. The court is expected to hand down a ruling next year after the defense counsel makes final arguments Oct 30 and 31.

Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was indicted on charges of masterminding 13 criminal cases, including murder in the March 1995 subway gassing that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.

A total of 171 witnesses were called, while some 405 million yen in government funds had been spent as of January to pay for his state-appointed lawyers.

For most of the trial, which began April 24, 1996, Asahara has kept silent over his role in the alleged crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges on April 24, 1997, except for a VX nerve gas attack on a man. He also has claimed that his followers committed the crimes against his will.

He refused to respond to his lawyers and presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa during all three questioning sessions held March 13, 27 and April 10 this year.

He last spoke in court in November 1999 as a witness in the trial of a former senior Aum cultist. He then said he had not known that Aum possessed sarin.

Asahara was first indicted in 17 criminal cases, in which 27 people died. In December 1997, however, prosecutors reduced the number of people who suffered from sarin gas exposure mentioned in the indictment from about 4,000 to 14 to expedite the trial.

In October 2000, they also dropped charges against him in four criminal cases relating to Aum’s alleged secret production of drugs.

The group has been under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Investigation Agency since December 1999. According to the agency, Aum had about 1,650 followers in Japan and some 300 believers in Russia as of last December.

Aum Shinrikyo, renamed from its predecessor Aum Shinsen no Kai in July 1987, gathered as many as 15,400 followers in Japan by March 1995. Crimes allegedly involving the cult also include a sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the murder of a lawyer and his family, and killings of Aum members.

Asahara told his followers he is the incarnation of Siva, the god of destruction and regeneration in the Hindu sacred triad, and urged them to entrust themselves and their assets to Siva and himself for their lifetime. He punished believers who disobeyed his orders, prosecutors said earlier.

Some of his former followers have said Asahara’s intention to topple the Japanese government was the motivation behind the crimes.

Since around April 1990, he started believing that all people nowadays are filled with sin and need to be killed to save their souls, according to prosecutors.

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