Top court rejects appeal by former Aum Shinrikyo fugitive

The Asahi Shimbun, Japan/January 15, 2016

By Miako Ichikawa

The Supreme Court upheld the nine-year prison sentence given to a doomsday cultist who surrendered to police after almost 17 years on the run.

The top court on Jan. 13 rejected the appeal of Makoto Hirata, 50, a former member of Aum Shinrikyo who was found guilty in March 2014 on a number of charges.

He was the first former Aum Shinrikyo member to be tried under the citizen judge system, which was implemented in 2009.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Hirata to nine years in prison for the abduction and confinement of Tokyo notary Kiyoshi Kariya, then 68, and bomb attacks on the condominium of a religious scholar and Aum’s headquarters in Tokyo in 1995.

The same year, the cultists committed the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 people and injuring more than 6,000.

Hirata, who turned himself in on Dec. 31, 2011, immediately appealed the district court’s ruling.

Hirata’s lawyers argued during the appeal trial that he was not informed of the cult’s plan to abduct Kariya and that he only played a supporting role as a driver.

The lawyers also said the nine-year prison term was excessive when compared with the sentence handed to an accomplice.

The Tokyo High Court, however, upheld the lower court’s decision in March last year, saying the prison term was appropriate because the district court ruling properly reflected the public view under the lay judge system.

After hearing the Supreme Court’s decision, Minoru Kariya, the 55-year-old eldest son of Kariya, who was killed by cultists, said in a statement that he hopes Hirata will stick by the statement he made during the trial that he was fully remorseful for his involvement in the crimes.

In a series of trials involving former Aum members, 13 cultists, including founder Shoko Asahara, 60, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, have been sentenced to death.

Only two trials involving former Aum members--Naoko Kikuchi, 44, and Katsuya Takahashi, 57, who were both arrested in 2012 after nearly two decades as fugitives--are ongoing.

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