Japanese court rejects death penalty appeal of former top cult member

Tokyo High Court on Wednesday upheld the death penalty of a former doomsday cult member convicted in attacks including the 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gassing that killed 12 people, a court official said.

Tomomitsu Niimi, former “home affairs minister” of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, was sentenced to hang in 2002 for murdering 26 people in seven separate attacks. He appealed his death sentence.

The court official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of court rules, had no other details of the decision.

Niimi gained notoriety at the start of his trial in 1996 by refusing to enter pleas and pledging eternal loyalty to former cult leader Shoko Asahara, who was sentenced to die in 2004 but is appealing.

Although Niimi has denied involvement in the Tokyo subway attack, he has reportedly admitted to all other charges brought against him. But Niimi claims he was following Asahara’s orders and shouldn’t be subject to the death penalty.

Cult members released the lethal sarin nerve gas on subway trains converging in central Tokyo in March 1995. The fumes killed 12 people, sent thousands to the hospital and paralyzed the center of the capital.

Niimi also was convicted of helping organize the 1989 strangulation of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto _ one of the first to question the cult’s activities _ and the lawyer’s wife and son.

The charismatic Asahara had predicted an apocalypse that only cult members would survive. The cult _ which at its height claimed 40,000 members in Japan and Russia _ was developing chemical, biological and conventional weapons in an apparent attempt to attack population centers and overthrow the government.

The cult was declared bankrupt in March 1996, but later regrouped under the name Aleph. It is under surveillance by Japan’s Public Safety Agency, which has warned that the group remains a threat.

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AP, via The China Post, USA
Mar. 15, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 15, 2006.
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