Shoko Asahara, leader of the Japanese cult that released sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995, was sentenced to hang for multiple charges of murder today. Richard Lloyd Parry, left, was in court to hear the verdict.
How did Asahara react when he was sentenced to hang?
He did not react. The judge came in and spent four hours reading out this very long statement and at the end he delivered the verdict. Asahara said very little the whole time. He looks very peculiar and just sits silent. He is nearly blind so his eyes are closed and his mouth twitches. Occasionally he mutters and jibbers to himself.
When will he be hanged?
He probably won’t be executed until 2020. He has launched an appeal to the Tokyo High Court, which could take another four or five years. Then even if the verdict is upheld he can appeal to the Supreme Court, which is another five years. There’s not much doubt it will be upheld, but then he’s likely to languish on death row for another six to seven years.
What about the survivors and bereaved relatives in the public gallery?
When they heard the verdicts they took it very quietly. There was no cheering or shouting. The Japanese wouldn’t do that. Outside, however, one woman was in tears and very emotional about it. There is a lot of relief. Everyone knows this is the beginnning of only the first stage, but I think, especially for the victims, it is a turning point. But there’s certainly a long way to go.
Why has it taken eight years to reach a verdict?
Trials in Japan always take a long time because hearings are held once a week or once a fortnight, unlike Britain where it is every day. There have been 257 hearings. Another reason is that in criminal cases in Japan the people generally plead guilty and confess. When guilt has to be proved it has to take longer.
Does the cult, Aum Shinri Kyo cult, still exist?
Yes. They have changed their name to Aleph as part of an image makeover, I suppose. There are a few hundred of them left. They live in compounds in various places around Japan and are continually under surveillance by authorities. Nobody believes they are a threat.
Have the victims received compensation?
No. They are very bitter that they have received no compensation from their own government. They were awarded damages against the cult, but it is bankrupt and has no money so less than a third of that has been paid.