AUM-related victims, others react to Asahara's death sentence

Kyodo News Service, Japan/September 15, 2006

The Supreme Court's rejection of a special appeal by AUM Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara against his death sentence drew mixed reactions from those who have been affected by a series of AUM-related incidents, including the fatal 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The death sentence for Asahara, 51, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was finalized following the top court's decision Friday, but that itself will not fully resolve the issues involving AUM or provide full clarification of the incidents, according to some victims of AUM-related crimes, lawyers and human rights activists.

Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was killed in the 1995 sarin gas subway attack when he was working as a subway station officer, said Asahara deserves to be hanged, but also expressed concern that his execution may prompt public memory of the incident to eventually fade away.

"I feel the necessity of continuing to tell people about what happened at that time, even after Asahara is executed," Takahashi, 59, said.

Since her husband's death, Takahashi has been involved in activities to improve the situation of crime victims and their bereaved families. "I expect AUM followers to realize the cult went out of control and killed people. I hope they will part from the AUM doctrines."

AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.

Yoshiyuki Kono, 56, a victim of the 1994 sarin gas attack by AUM members in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, expressed dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court's decision.

"Society has much to learn from the case and yet the trial ended without hearing any argument from Mr. Asahara. No words on why the victims were killed will be heard now. I am not satisfied at all," he said.

His family members were also affected by the nerve gas attack, with his 58-year-old wife still remaining in coma. His elder daughter, 28, often experiences unexplained fevers, while Kono's body temperature constantly remains slightly above average. He said he does not feel he has made a full recovery.

Kono, however, denied having resentment toward Asahara and is against death sentences for him and his followers. "As a victim myself, I do want to hear from Mr. Asahara. Tons of assumptions have been made (with regard to his motives) but nothing is more significant than his own words."

Yoshihiro Yasuda, former chief defense lawyer for Asahara, agreed with Kono, saying, "We wanted to know what actually happened but Mr. Asahara's trial ended without him speaking out...I'm seething with anger."

"This is social lynching. It's not about justice or injustice but about repulsion. There's an underlying repulsion among people for Mr. Asahara and everything about him," said Yasuda, who is also a well-known anti-death penalty campaigner.

"His unshaved, unclean appearance and the way his religious organization is working -- they are odd and the repulsion is directed toward the strangeness," he said.

"The atrocity (of the crimes) is only the final product. It's more important to go over the procedure that led to the result and understand it in a social context. Execution will only make society an unhappy place," he added.

However, Taro Takimoto, a lawyer and victim of a sarin attack on him by AUM members in 1994, said the capital punishment for Asahara is a "natural" outcome considering the crimes he masterminded.

But Takimoto, who helps former AUM members and tries to convince current members to leave the group, questions the death sentences which have been handed down on 12 others over their involvement in AUM-related crimes, saying they are also victims.

"The only person who would be happy to see the 12 executed is Shoko Asahara, so I would feel as if defeated by him if that happened. As the final settlement, I think Asahara should be the only one (to be executed)," he said.

Meanwhile, Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International Japan, said there is a need to avoid execution.

"There is certainly a chance even for Mr. Asahara to be reformed and it is crucial for us to leave room for such change," he said. "Capital punishment will take away our chance to learn a lesson from the case."

Kono said Aleph members have visited him and his wife annually for some years now to express their apologies. He dines with them, but he says he never lets them pay for his meals.

"Look at them -- they're doing everything to pay compensation to the victims. I can't have people like that pay for me," he said.

Besides acting as a campaigner for crime victims, Takahashi tries to lead her life in a forward-looking manner.

"Life is not necessarily nasty. I cannot lead my life only as a bereaved family member of a crime victim," she said. "I hope I can lead my life in various capacities -- as a mother, as a friend and still as a wife."

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