Tokyo court rules doomsday cult guru mentally fit to stand trial

Agence France Presse/December 21, 2004

Tokyo -- A Tokyo court has refused to suspend the trial of the founder of a cult that spread deadly nerve gas throughout the subway system in 1995 despite reports that his behaviour was increasingly erratic.

The Tokyo High Court said Shoko Asahara was mentally fit and told his lawyers Monday that it was rejecting their request to halt the trial, the spokesman said.

The bearded 49-year-old former head of the Aum Supreme Truth cult was sentenced to death in February and is facing an appeal trial, which his lawyers wanted suspended so he could undergo psychological tests.

The court spokesman said the chief judge in the appeal trial, Masaru Suda, had met with Asahara in prison and confirmed he was mentally fit.

The decision drew a tearful plea from Asahara's daughters who said they could not have any substantive conversations with their father in about 20 meetings since mid-August.

"I could not understand what was going on as (Father) was incoherently laughing, turning right and left, looking up and down," the tabloid Nikkan Sports quoted the second daughter as saying.

Asahara has two sons and four daughters.

Jiji Press news agency had earlier reported that Asahara's health had deteriorated to the point he wears diapers in prison.

Members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which was founded in 1984, spread Nazi-invented sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.

Cult members had testified that the offences were committed under orders of Asahara, who reportedly wanted to thwart a police raid on the sect. His trial opened in April 1996.

The cult, renamed as Aleph, has acknowledged responsibility for the crimes and apologized.

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