Death sentence for Japan cult guru

Asahara will be able to file an appeal.

TOKYO, Japan — Former Japanese doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara has been found guilty and sentenced to death for masterminding the 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways and other crimes.

The mammoth eight-year trial of Asahara — a partially-sighted yoga tutor whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto — ended Friday with the Tokyo District Court finding him guilty of ordering his Aum Shinrikyo cult to release the sarin gas, killing 12 people.

Thousands of others on Japan’s subway at the time of the peak-hour attack were sickened, and many are still suffering with headaches, breathing problems and dizziness.

Asahara was also accused of being behind the killing of 15 other people, including seven that died in a nerve gas attack in central Japan a year earlier. (Charges (/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/02/26/ashara.crimes.ap/index.html))

Asahara has not given any coherent testimony during his trial, and defense lawyers have argued he was no longer in command of the cult when the subway attack took place. (Asahara: Symbol of evil (/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/02/26/japan.cult.profile.reut/index.html))

But the guilty verdict was widely expected after former members testified to his leadership of the cult. Japan also has a 99 percent conviction record.

The death penalty has been ordered for 11 of 189 cult members tried so far in connection with the attacks. None of the sentences have yet to be carried out.

Security was tight at the court ahead of the verdict to guard against Asahara’s followers disrupting proceedings. Subway travelers in Tokyo were warned to be on the alert and report any “suspicious objects.”

Over 4,500 people turned up on Friday to try and get one of the 38 courtroom seats available to the public. Spectators were chosen by lottery.

Although trials in Japan are often lengthy, Asahara’s eight year epic was due to the country’s chronic shortage of lawyers and judges, the complexity of the case and a delay after the former cult guru fired his first attorney.

The 1995 subway attack shocked Japan and shattered its image as a safe and crime free haven.

At its height, the Aum cult commanded 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 more in Russia. A crackdown on the group followed the subway attack and many of the cult’s bizarre practices were exposed.

Among them, initiates to Aum paid large sums to drink Asahara’s dirty bath water, sip his blood and wear electric caps to keep their brain waves in check with that of their leader’s, The Associated Press reported.

The group still claims about 1,600 members in Japan and 300 in Russia.

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Feb. 27, 2004

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