Day of Judgment: Aum leader still haunts jailed followers

This is the third installment of a series on Chizuo Matsumoto, the founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6]
[Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10]
[Part 11] [Part 12]

Separated by a transparent partition in the interview room of the Shinjuku Police Station, a lawyer tried to talk to a female follower of 48-year-old Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, into opening up to others.

“You should stop calling him guru,” the lawyer said. “He tried to flee and hide when police were searching for him. He also denied that he had killed people based on his belief. Don’t you think he is a coward?”

It took about nine months after her arrest in May 1995 for her to start talking. She remained silent through her first trial, which started in October 1995.

The lawyer, who did not try to force her to leave the cult, succeeded in helping her open up.

She began calling Matsumoto Mr. Asahara instead of guru and in mid-March 1996, she said she would quit Aum.

But she made an about-face in late March, telling the lawyer that she would not leave the cult.

She also told prosecutors that she would follow the guru and that the guru’s prophecies would come true.

Before she changed her mind, she received several letters from the cult through the lawyer.

One of the letters read: “I want to talk to you about the highest level of enlightenment… If you do not regard the investigators’ words even as mere sounds, you will be relieved of the pains inflicted by the investigators.”

Another letter read: “I continue the ascetic training without taking a break even during questioning by investigators. Ascetic training in adverse circumstances is real training. I think the arrested disciples have lost their spirit.”

Prosecutors believed that the letters were messages from Matsumoto.

Such letters were passed on to jailed Aum followers through lawyers.

“The effect of the letters was tremendous,” a senior prosecutor said. “Many followers changed their minds after having decided to leave the cult.”

Some Aum followers reportedly said that after reading the letters, they did not want to return to their cells from the interview room, saying they were getting “bad karma.”

In April 1996, officials of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office began confiscating such letters and quizzed lawyers who brought the letters to the followers.

The decision was reached after much deliberation in an effort to eliminate Asahara’s influence. The above-mentioned female follower’s lawyer said that he had read the letters but he did not think they would be influential.

Seiichi Endo, 43, was a senior cult member sentenced to death for murder, including the deaths caused by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. In June the same year, Endo suddenly dismissed his lawyer, Kenji Nozaki.

In court, he also made an about-face, denying his involvement in the sarin attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the subway system in Tokyo.

Before he changed his mind, Endo had received letters from the cult to the effect that to deny his involvement and to endure hardships also were ascetic training, but he had already decided to admit what he did, as suggested by Nozaki.

Why did he change his mind?

Endo refused to meet with Nozaki, who went to the detention center to find out why he had been dismissed.

Prosecutors have no doubt that before Endo made his about-face, some lawyers other than Nozaki had met with Endo.

In October 1995 when Matsumoto fired his lawyers, Nozaki met with Matsumoto three times.

At the first meeting, Matsumoto had an arrogant disposition. At the second meeting, Matsumoto pleaded for help, but after Nozaki refused to defend Matsumoto at the third meeting, Matsumoto began shouting at Nozaki.

“Didn’t you ask Endo to vilify me? Otherwise, he wouldn’t be exonerated from the blame,” Matsumoto said to Nozaki without listening to Nozaki’s reply.

He then told Nozaki to “get lost.”

“Matsumoto is a guy who only cares about himself,” Nozaki said.

Nevertheless, Matsumoto still exerts a great influence on his jailed disciples.

Endo, once a student at Kyoto University graduate school’s virus research department, became the health and welfare minister of the cult’s “government” after dropping out of the school.

Before he dismissed Nozaki, Endo said, “This guru with supernatural power was a frightening man.”

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Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan
Feb. 11, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 11, 2004.
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