Kyodo (Japan), Apr. 24, 2003
Public prosecutors on Thursday demanded the death penalty for AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara for the murders at his orders of more than 20 people in connection with the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks and other crimes by his followers.
They made the demand exactly seven years to the day after Asahara’s trial began at the Tokyo District Court and in its 254th hearing. The court is expected to hand down a ruling next year after the defense counsel makes final arguments Oct. 30 and 31.
The 48-year-old Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was indicted on murder and other charges in 13 criminal cases, including the March 1995 subway gassing that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
The crimes also include a 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, the killing of AUM cultists, and the murder of a lawyer, who was helping people with complaints against AUM, and his family.
”The crimes are indiscriminate terrorism with not the slightest bit of religiousness and are the most atrocious and heinous villainy in criminal history,” the prosecutors said in their 300-page closing statement.
”The defendant preached a dangerous doctrine that affirms murder and it is clear that he ordered the events. The claims that deny he did so are false,” they added.
As a prosecutor began reading the statement, Asahara, who has been silent for most of his trial, suddenly opened his mouth wide and repeatedly moved as if trying to bite the shoulder of the guard sitting to his left.
The prosecutors said former senior AUM officials already found guilty of crimes told courts they received orders from Asahara in all the cases.
On the Tokyo subway attack, the statement said, ”With a plot made beforehand, he decided on the terrorist act of indiscriminate mass murder and sent out important instructions to former AUM senior officials…one after another.”
The prosecutors said Asahara had a determined, malicious attitude toward the general public, as seen in the Matsumoto attack. Seven people were killed and four were seriously injured.
Before Thursday’s hearing began, 649 people lined up outside the court for a lottery for the 46 tickets to the public gallery.
During the trial, 171 witnesses were called, and some 405 million yen in government funds was spent as of January to pay for Asahara’s state-appointed lawyers.
For most of the trial, which began April 24, 1996, Asahara has kept silent. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges on April 24, 1997, except for one related to a VX nerve gas attack on a man. He also claimed his followers committed the crimes against his wishes.
Asahara refused to respond to questions from his lawyers and Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa during three questioning sessions held on 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 AUM member. He said then he had not known that AUM possessed sarin.
Asahara was first indicted on charges in 17 criminal cases in which 27 people died. In December 1997, the prosecutors reduced the number of people cited in the indictment as suffering from sarin gas exposure from about 4,000 to 18 to expedite the trial.
In October 2000, they also dropped charges against him in four cases related to AUM’s alleged secret production of drugs. The Tokyo District Court also made a special arrangement to put an additional judge on the usual three-judge panel to speed up the trial.
Nine AUM followers have been sentenced to death in connection with AUM crimes and all have appealed to higher courts.
The cult has been under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Investigation Agency since December 1999. According to the agency, AUM, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000, had about 1,650 followers in Japan and 300 in Russia as of last December.
Asahara launched the cult in 1984 as AUM Shinsen no Kai, and its named changed to AUM Shinrikyo in July 1987. Its Japan membership peaked at 15,400 in March 1995, the month the Tokyo subway was gassed.
Asahara told his followers he is the incarnation of Siva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration, and urged them to entrust themselves and their assets to Siva and himself for their lifetime. He also punished disobedient believers, according to the prosecutors.
Some of his former believers have said Asahara’s motivation for the crimes was to topple the government.
Since around April 1990, he started believing that all people are filled with sin and need to be killed to save their souls, according to the prosecutors.