AUM victims criticize gov’t for ‘inaction’ ahead of Asahara ruling

TOKYO, Feb. 26, Kyodo – Victims of crimes perpetrated by the AUM Shinrikyo cult lashed out Thursday against the police and the government, saying they have failed to take sufficient action against the cult and have turned a deaf ear to the victims and their families.

Coming a day before the Tokyo District Court hands down its ruling on cult founder Shoko Asahara, Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died in the notorious March 20, 1995 sarin gas attack by AUM on the Tokyo subway system, said she hopes Asahara will receive the death penalty and that the government should take responsibility in compensating victims.

How Cult Apologists Defended AUM Shinrikyo

“One of the Americans, James Lewis, told a hostile and evidently incredulous roomful of Japanese reporters gathered at an Aum office Monday that the cult could not have produced the rare poison gas, sarin, used in both murder cases. He said the Americans had determined this from photos and documents provided by Aum.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

“He was accompanied by two Santa Barbarans – J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, and James R. Lewis, director of the Association of World Academics for Religious Education–and Thomas Banigan of Anver Bioscience Design Inc. in Sierra Madre.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

“Another claim by the AUM apologists is that the trip to Japan was initiated and financed by AUM ‘dissidents,’ shocked by the acts of their leaders. The reality is that the trip was initiated by the NRM scholars involved, who contacted AUM to offer their help, and that there are no AUM dissidents.”
– Quoted at AUM and cult apologists

Speaking before a packed Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, Takahashi, a widow with three children, said Asahara ”took away the lives of people, so I want him to atone with his life” and also expressed anger at the government over what she said is a lack of sympathy and measures to assist her and fellow victims.

”The central and Tokyo metropolitan government authorities have not given us one word of sympathy, monetary compensation or worked on medical measures. I want the government to (work on victims’ assistance issues) as part of its terrorism countermeasures,” said Takahashi, head of a group of victims of the 1995 gas attack and their kin.

Takahashi’s husband, Kazumasa Takahashi, an assistant stationmaster of a subway station, died at age 50 after picking up nerve gas-filled containers from a packed train. The gassing took place during the Monday morning rush hour on three subway lines.

Yuji Nakamura, a lawyer representing the group, said unlike the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack victims in the United States, Japan has no system to compensate victims in such an incident because it had never prepared itself for such happenings.

”There was no sense of crisis-preparedness, and because of this, measures (dealing with victims of such incidents) have been delayed,” he said, and called on the state not to let terrorists who gloat at the suffering of their victims have their way, and take after the U.S. model for compensation.

Shoko Egawa, a journalist versed in AUM-related issues, said there is a problem with the basic stance of the government which puts the burden of proof on the victims of such crimes or catastrophes, and that the government is responsible for their suffering.

Takahashi and Nakamura said compensation for AUM crimes was being drawn from the cult’s bankruptcy proceedings, and although they won a suit in March 2000 in which the court ordered the cult to pay 4 billion yen in compensation, only about 30% of it had actually been paid.

As it stands, AUM — which renamed itself Aleph as part of efforts to shed its crime-tainted image — claims it is having a hard time paying up.

Egawa also criticized the police, saying, ”They have had many opportunities to investigate AUM but they missed out on them.”

Egawa said such oversight by law enforcement authorities amounts to a ”serious omission” and urged them to ”deeply reflect” on it. Nakamura added that police have seemingly been reluctant to investigate AUM because authorities did not want to impinge on freedom of religion.

The ninth anniversary of the 1995 gassing will occur in about a month, but the effects of the cult on the lives of the victims — many of them still suffering from the aftereffects of sarin — are deep and lasting.

Egawa, who herself became a target of attack by the cult due to her hard-hitting articles against it, said that AUM under a new name is still the same cult it was before, and although it no longer wields any physical threat, since it has no capacity to produce chemical weapons, it still has the power to inflict ”psychological” damage.

According to Egawa, current members still believe in Asahara’s teachings, and they are ”reluctant” to examine and think for themselves about what actually happened in the past and see the relationship between the crimes and the cult’s teachings.

Taking that into account, she urged the police to continue surveillance of the cult, which was made possible under a law created in 1999.

The trial of Asahara, 48, which has dragged on for nearly eight years since it opened in April 1996, will finally see a decision handed down and it is widely expected to be the death sentence. But there is also a chance the trial will drag on even longer.

Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, faces charges including murder and attempted murder in 13 criminal cases, killing a total of 27 people, the most notorious being the 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway system which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.

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Kyodo News, Japan
Feb. 26, 2004
May Masangkay

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday February 27, 2004.
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