Asahara again refuses to respond to questions by his own attorneys

The Japan Times/March 28, 2003
By Yumi W ijers-Hasegawa

Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara refused again Thursday to answer questions from his own lawyers, while victims of the cult's crimes called for him to receive the death penalty.

During the day's session at the Tokyo District Court, two victims of the cult's sarin gas attacks and the relative of another addressed the court. Five others submitted written statements.

"Asahara alone should be sentenced to death, to make him realize the seriousness of his sin," said Taro Takimoto, a lawyer who helped some members leave the cult. Cult members tried to murder Takimoto in 1994 by applying liquid sarin to his car.

The daughter of Mitsuo Okada, who died after the Tokyo subway sarin attack in March 1995, said in a statement to the court: "My father, who happened to be on the subway, had his throat cut open at the hospital to insert a breathing tube, but he didn't seem to feel anything.

"He died 15 months later, never opening his eyes once. The culprits should die in the same way."

In response to questions from five lawyers, Asahara turned away in silence, only smiling when asked about the doctrine of his religion.

"I don't understand why you are smiling, but you must understand what is being asked," presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said. "Can you not say what you are thinking?"

Asahara was last questioned in court by his own lawyers on March 13.

A third and final question session will take place April 10, before prosecutors take over April 24. They are widely expected to ask for the death penalty.

The district court has so far handed down death sentences on nine Aum followers accused of committing a series of crimes allegedly ordered by Asahara.

Also Thursday, current leaders of Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, submitted to the district court a request to cancel the continuing surveillance of the cult by the Public Security Investigation Agency.

The surveillance, which began in 2000 in accordance with a special law effectively targeting the group, expired in January but was extended for three years by the Public Security Examination Commission.

In a news conference following the submission of the request, the cult's public relations chief, Hiroshi Araki, and Akitoshi Hirosue, chief of its legal affairs, said the surveillance violates the Constitution.

While the law says the surveillance can be imposed only when a group is deemed capable of committing indiscriminate murder for political motives, Aum has no political objectives, they said.

"In the trials of cult members such as (senior Aum member) Tomomitsu Niimi, it has been proven objectively by the court that the cult's crimes were caused by Asahara's fantasies, and not by any political ideas," Hirosue said.

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