Victims of Japan Cult Gassing Not Claiming Compensation

CNN News, January 25, 2000

TOKYO (AP) -- Most victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing, in which members of a doomsday cult have been convicted, hide the fact that they are victims for fear of social stigma, their lawyers said Tuesday.

Victims of the sarin gassing by Aum Shinri Kyo, which has recently changed its name to Aleph, are believed to number some 5,500. But only about 1,136 people have come forward to claim compensation, the lawyers said. Sympathy for crime victims is hard to come by in relatively safe Japan, where it is rare to see random attacks like the subway gassing that left 12 people dead. The need for counseling, for example, is a relatively novel area in this society, where conformity and social harmony are highly valued. Admitting they are victims of the sarin attack can jeopardize their jobs and prospective marriages, said Shinsuke Kimura, one of the attorneys. Free medical checkups will be offered in March and April in an attempt to reach victims who have been afraid to come forward, the lawyers said. A symposium and charity concert are also planned for March to raise money and social awareness.

"How the victims are faring is often forgotten," Kimura said.

The cult has drawn media attention lately because of apparent infighting.

The 7-year-old son of guru Shoko Asahara was kidnapped last Friday, allegedly by a couple of his older sisters and other followers. Police found the boy Sunday and have arrested three cult members.

On Monday, a high-ranking official of the cult was arrested on suspicion of threatening bank employees who refused to open an account for the group. The cult is believed to be trying to regroup and play down the connection to Asahara, who is on trial on charges of masterminding the sarin attack and other killings.

The cult has recently accepted responsibility for the gassing and apologized to the victims -- something it had refused to do for the last five years.

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