Woman who sheltered Aum Shinrikyo cult member faces prison term

Religion News Blog — A woman who harbored Aum Shinrikyo cult member Makoto Hirata for 17 years faces a two-year prison term.

Akemi Saito, herself a former member of the cult, pled guilty in court Tuesday to sheltering the former fugitive.

The Mainichi Daily News says the woman read from a prepared paper: “The crime I should atone for is being a follower of AUM Shinrikyo. I apologize to the victims and to everyone in society.”

When questioned about Makoto Hirata, 46, the former cult member she is accused of sheltering, she said, “I think of him as family,” and “After his return to society I want to live together with him.” She also said during the trial, “I want people who still believe (in AUM’s teachings) to think well and look at the truth.”

“Because of (Saito’s) actions, the police were unable to arrest Hirata for many years. The defendant harbored Hirata out of her emotions toward him and disregarded the feelings of the victims” of crimes Hirata participated in, one prosecutor told the Tokyo District Court, writes the Japan Times:

Saito’s lawyers asked for a suspend sentence because she has expressed remorse. A verdict will be handed down March 27.

Saito, 49, was indicted for harboring Hirata for nearly 17 years despite knowing he was wanted in connection with a 1995 kidnap-murder. Hirata turned himself in to Tokyo police on New Year’s Eve, while Saito surrendered to police in the capital 10 days later.

“I knew Hirata was one of the culprits but I wanted to protect the person I loved,” Saito told the court as she entered her guilty plea.

In her written statement, Saito express remorses over “becoming an Aum Shinrikyo member, devoting my labor and fortune to it, and helping it commit heinous crimes.”

Ater police raided Aum’s facilities in response to the cult’s sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in March, 1995, Saito and Hirato fled to Sendai.

In court Tuesday, Saito testified that she was not aware at the time of Hirata’s involvement in any of his alleged criminal acts.

Later that year, Hirata admitted to her that he assisted two other cultists in a February 1995 kidnap and murder, but Saito says Hirata also told her he did not know at the time that the man was to be killed.

Last January Hirata was charged with the fatal abduction of Tokyo notary Kiyoshi Kariya. According to court records Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara ordered his followers to abduct Kariya to discover the whereabouts of Kariya’s sister who had been in hiding after she tried to leave the cult.

Hirata is also suspected in the near-fatal shooting of Japan’s top police official, but the high-profile case was closed last year after the statute of limitations expired.

In February prosecutors indicted Hirata on fresh charges of involvement in a blast at a Tokyo condominium and the throwing of a firebomb into the group’s Tokyo headquarters in 1995.

The Mainichi Daily News says that after Saito’s court hearing, Hirata’s lawyer Taro Takimoto said to reporters, “The defendant was just under mind control (when she was a cult member).” He said that Saito donated around eight million yen she had with her when she appeared at a police station to the victims of AUM Shinrikyo crimes.

In December, 2010 Japan’s National Police Agency said it has confirmed that a total of 6,583 people fell victim to the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and seven other crimes committed by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

Research resources on AUM shinrikyo
Aum-related crimes
How AUM Shinrikyo justified violence
Life inside AUM Shinrikyo
How cult apologists, including J. Gordon Melton and James R. Lewis, defended Aum Shrinrikyo

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday March 7, 2012.
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