TOKYO, March 17 (Kyodo) — Victims of the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and their lawyers, reiterated their calls Wednesday for the central and local governments to take responsibility and compensate them for the attack and other crimes perpetrated by the AUM Shinrikyo cult.
A petition addressed to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara was presented to the Cabinet Office on Wednesday afternoon, following the posting of a similar petition to the Tokyo metropolitan government on Tuesday.
Their submission of the petitions comes about three weeks after the Tokyo District Court gave the death penalty on Feb. 27 to Shoko Asahara, founder of AUM Shinrikyo, which committed a host of crimes including the fatal March 20, 1995, sarin gas attack.
Speaking at a news conference to mark the ninth anniversary of the attack, Shizue Takahashi, who heads a group of victims, expressed the hope that Koizumi will take ”concrete actions” and that the state will carry out its duty to help the victims and their families.
Koizumi said after the Feb. 27 ruling, ”We will do as much as we can” in handling calls on the government from victims of AUM’s crimes to take measures to help them. He did not elaborate.
Takahashi, who lost her husband in the subway attack, said she was ”encouraged” by the premier’s ”kind words” and, prompted by what she saw as ”a ray of hope” in their plight, she wrote to him to convey her wishes.
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The petition was also signed by members of two lawyers’ groups — one specifically handling the subway attack and the other dealing comprehensively with crimes perpetrated by AUM.
While reiterating the government’s responsibility to help the victims, the petitioners urged it to ”systematically and continuously investigate the actual conditions” of AUM victims and their families, noting that the biggest survey the state has conducted was one by the National Police Agency from March 2000 to June 2001.
It is not the first time a petition of this kind has been submitted to the government, they said, adding that such calls have been made to the government since 1997.
They also urged government authorities to conduct health surveys and research by experts and establish a special medical care system, as well as conducting continuous health checkups. Currently, only a handful of doctors and medical facilities are trying to figure out how to treat sarin victims.
Takahashi also said there was apparently a system for dealing with aftercare for sarin victims, but this only became known to them in 2000.
But the health ministry reportedly said it had publicized the matter and had thought there were only a few people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since not many availed themselves of the service, said Yuji Nakamura, secretary general of the lawyers’ group for the subway attack.
Currently, 1,137 victims have taken part in a civil suit for bankruptcy proceedings involving AUM’s assets, but only 30% have received money, while the rest are getting help from workers’ accident compensation, they said. In the Tokyo subway attack in 1995 alone, 12 people died and more than 5,500 were injured.
Echoing another demand in the petition, Takeshi Ono, who was the secretary general for the other lawyers’ group, urged the government to continue keeping an eye on AUM, saying that until the group is disbanded the problem ”will not end.”
To do this, Ono said the government should take on the responsibility of ”creating an environment” to enable former AUM followers to reenter ordinary society to prevent them from returning to AUM.
AUM has renamed itself Aleph. Although it has made a public apology and expressed willingness to pay compensation, many victims question the group’s sincerity and believe it has not changed at all.