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Evil spirit lives on in shabby man in court • Saturday April 26, 2003

Asahi News (Japan), Apr. 26, 2003 (Opinion)

The man seated on the bench for the accused must be someone who stokes hatred and anger just to watch, at least for those who lost loved ones in the crimes attributed to him or who managed to survive them.

The defendant, Chizuo Matsumoto, led the Aum Shinrikyo cult by the name of Shoko Asahara. The way he looks in court must prompt the bereaved families and surviving victims to ask themselves: “Why do we have to suffer so much because of this man? Why is it that followers listened to a man like this and committed evil crimes?”

Matsumoto is hardly presentable in the courtroom, just a shabby and dirty-looking middle-aged man. Compared with his days of corpulence, he has shed a lot of weight.

But “shrunken,” instead of “compact,” would be a better way to describe him. He is restless while seated. He stirs restlessly, and keeps moving his lips, as if he is mumbling to himself.

I was in the spectators’ gallery of the Tokyo District Court on Thursday when prosecutors made their final arguments and requested the death sentence for Matsumoto. I saw him yawn while prosecutors were telling the court how a victim in a 1994 sarin nerve-gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture-a young man, who had nothing to do with his cult-writhed in pain as he was dying of gas poisoning. Clearly, he was not listening to the account.

Unashamed of his penchant for megalomania, the defendant once boasted in court: “I have become a creature with the capacity to move the whole universe.” But when he was given a chance to explain himself under the Subversive Activities Prevention Law, he said many of his instructions to members of his cult had not been followed and added that he took it as a sign that his authority had tumbled.

This shows he is a person who can calculatingly humble himself, depending on circumstances.

People are sometimes drawn to evil, but they cannot stand vulgarity, a British novelist once observed. As cult leader, Matsumoto may have bewitched his followers by exercising evil power. But only his vulgar side stands out in the courtroom.

The gulf between the gravity of charges against him and the pettiness of his behavior often leaves me speechless.

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