TOKYO, March 14–(Kyodo) Even 10 years after the AUM Shinrikyo sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, the government continues to move at a snail’s pace in providing much-needed monetary aid and medical and psychological care to several thousands of victims of the March 20, 1995 attack.
“For the past 10 years, we have been making the same demands for government aid but to this day the government has barely lifted a finger to help us,” said Shizue Takahashi, who represents a group of victims of the attack and their families.
“Anyone could have been a victim in that fatal 1995 incident. Is it right for the government just to pity us, think we were just unlucky at that moment and do nothing?” Takahashi said.
Takahashi and other victims and their relatives filed a lawsuit under a bankruptcy procedure in which the court ordered AUM Shinrikyo to pay about 2.8 billion yen in compensation for the Tokyo gas attack and another gassing incident which took place in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994.
Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer for the victims, said that only 800 million yen, or 30 percent of the amount, has been allotted. AUM apparently is having a hard time paying up, he said.
“Even that 30 percent is the result of all the various efforts from us and our lawyers over the past years. We filed the lawsuit on our own, raised our plight with the government and media, and still all we have is 30 percent,” said Takahashi, whose husband, an assistant stationmaster, died in the attack shortly after picking up bags containing the deadly nerve gas.
Takahashi said if AUM cannot pay up, the state should provide the remaining 70 percent and be reimbursed later by AUM, claiming the state is just as responsible for the attack by failing to prevent it.
According to Aleph, the group has paid some 540 million yen to the victims under a bankruptcy procedure agreement over a five-year period since 2000.
A member of Aleph, who has been with the group for the past 15 years, said the compensation for victims comes from current followers who were not involved in the crimes and reflects the group’s sincerity and moral responsibility toward the victims.
In the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, 12 people were killed and more than 5,500 were injured. AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 50, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in February last year over 13 charges, including the subway attack, at the Tokyo District Court.
The issue of medical care remains a pressing one, as the Recovery Support Center, a Tokyo-based nonprofit group, is virtually the sole entity taking care of sarin gas victims through medical checks.
“What we are doing is something that the government should be doing, not a private group like ours which is hard up,” said Yogo Isogai, who heads the center’s secretariat.
The center began its medical checks in March 1996. Since then a total of 1,401 people have had free once-a-year medical checkups, with some still suffering from aftereffects such as eye problems, headaches, extreme fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder, Isogai said.
But a holistic view of the survivors’ health is lacking given that the data are scattered. The last time the National Police Agency’s National Research Institute of Police Science conducted a survey was in 2001.
In 1997, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry had also set up an aftercare system for some 3,700 sarin gas victims who are recognized as eligible to receive workmen’s compensation, but currently only 33 avail themselves of it.
Moreover, Isogai stressed that the aftercare service is limited because it excludes part-time workers or high school students who do not have workmen’s compensation. “It is wrong that these people, who suffered the same fate, are being treated differently by the government,” he said.
Minoru Kariya, whose father was one of the people killed by AUM, deplored the burdens shouldered by crime victims and their relatives.
“Why is it that crime victims are always on the losing end? The rights of Asahara and other senior members on trial are ensured, such as their right to stand trial and have a state-funded lawyer, and AUM continues to exist, while crime victims like us are always neglected,” Kariya, a member of the National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, said.
Hiroyuki Nagaoka, meanwhile, whose son was once an AUM member, said there should be more understanding of the psyche of the convicted members of AUM as well as the group’s current followers.
“I always have in mind that that person in the defendant’s seat could have very well been my son. What if my child was being accused for a heinous crime and could not bring himself to atone?” he said. Nagaoka has been involved for more than 10 years in helping former AUM members and their relatives.
On Jan. 4, 1995, some AUM members attempted to kill Nagaoka, head of the cult’s victims’ association, by spraying VX gas at him on a Tokyo street. Tomomitsu Niimi, one of the senior AUM members, is accused of ordering the attack on Nagaoka.
Niimi was earlier sentenced to death at a lower court for 11 crimes, including the attack on Nagaoka and the murder of a lawyer and his family.
Nagaoka recently appeared before the Tokyo High Court as a witness for Niimi’s defense lawyers at their request and asked for leniency for him. When he had initially appeared as a witness for the prosecution, Nagaoka said he wanted Niimi to get the death penalty.
“I do not know how people would have regarded my change of statement, but in the course of meeting Niimi in prison several times and observing his actions, I saw a change in him, which made me think that he is sincerely remorseful,” he said.
According to Nagaoka, he saw Niimi in court with his hands clasped in prayer and saying he was sorry — a sight that he had never seen during previous court sessions.
“We have to understand that AUM followers feel they can never get their message across to us. It distresses them to try to speak from their hearts or reach out to us because they know we will never understand them,” Nagaoka said.