TOKYO, Feb. 20–(Kyodo)– Shoko Asahara, founder of the religious cult formerly known as AUM Shinrikyo, is mentally competent to stand trial, an expert report presented Monday to the Tokyo High Court said, rejecting his lawyers’ claim that his mental condition is not normal.
While exhibiting a reaction to being incarcerated for a long time, the 50-year-old Asahara “does not suffer mental illness and he is able to communicate,” the report by Akira Nishiyama, a physician in Tokyo, says.
“The defendant does not want the trial to go on, but he has not lost his litigation capacity,” the report adds.
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The defense lawyers for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, have demanded that the court suspend trial procedures, saying he is mentally incompetent, and the high court is expected to come out with its own judgment on his competency in a month or two.
Asahara was sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. He has appealed the ruling to the high court.
Based on a provision of the criminal code, his death sentence may be finalized if the high court concludes he is mentally competent, as his lawyers did not submit a statement giving the reason for the appeal by the deadline last August.
The lawyers have claimed they did not meet the deadline because they could not communicate with the defendant, saying, “It is impossible to submit a statement which does not reflect the defendant’s will.”
The lawyers said Asahara has never said anything comprehensible.
With the criminal code also allowing the court to accept a statement even after the deadline when the circumstances are unavoidable, it is now up to the high court whether it will accept the statement should the lawyers submit it at some point.
If the high court agrees to receive the statement, the appeal trial would be launched once the document is submitted.
The expert’s report, which is about 90 pages long, says there was “no evidence suggesting that the defendant has lost the ability to say things” and that his communication capability has been proven through various methods.
It adds that he is observing a state of silence, and chooses not to respond to questions posed to him, even though he understands them, or else passes comments that are completed unrelated.
The high court said in August last year that it will have Asahara undergo a psychiatric examination and hear expert opinion on whether he is competent to stand trial, while telling his lawyers it stands firm in its assessment that the defendant has litigation capacity.
AUM Shinrikyo has renamed itself Aleph.