TOKYO, Sept. 11–Yoshiyuki Kono, who was falsely described as a suspect by police after the 1994 sarin gas attack by the AUM Shinrikyo cult in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, said Saturday he believes the eight years a court spent trying AUM founder Shoko Asahara before sentencing him to death in February was too short.
“Considering the large scale of indictments against him, the eight years seems to be very quick,” Kono said at a public forum with Yoshihiro Yasuda, former chief defense lawyer for Asahara, in Tokyo.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death on Feb. 27 by the Tokyo District Court over all 13 charges against him, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
“The mass media attacked the defense team for Mr. Asahara, saying it intentionally delayed the trial, but I think it is natural for the lawyers to check the details of the indictments,” Kono said. “The media and society as a whole had already found Mr. Asahara guilty before the judges made their ruling.”
He was apparently criticizing impatience among Japanese toward those reported and indicted as perpetrators of heinous crimes.
“The first trial for Mr. Asahara just ended, and he has appealed the ruling. What can we say at this stage?” he added.
Kono was the first to report the gassing in Matsumoto. Police believed he was a suspect because chemicals were found at his home, and he was harassed by news media. He was hospitalized for about a month due to the gassing, and his wife remains in a coma.
After going through bitter experiences with the police and media, Kono became one of three members of the Public Safety Commission in 2002 monitoring Nagano prefectural police.
On the media reports against him made after the Matsumoto gassing, Kono said, “The media falsely branded me as the prime suspect based only on information leaked by the investigators, but they still haven’t corrected their style of reporting.”
“If manufacturers make defective products, they must exhaustively check the process and hand down harsh lessons so they will not repeat it. But the media do not show such a stance, so young reporters have repeated the same failures as their older coworkers,” he said.
Referring to relief measures for crime victims and their bereaved families, Kono said, “It is the responsibility of the central government to prevent crimes. In that sense, I believe the government should establish a relief system for the victims, under which it disburses support money from public funds.”
Yasuda, a well-known anti-death penalty campaigner, shared the view with Kono, saying society as a whole should face crimes and that the relief for the victims is a matter of social security.
AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000 in an effort to distance itself from its criminal image, but it remains under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.