Japanese court upholds death sentence for Aum cult 'combatant'

Yahoo! News Singapore/September 18, 2003

A Japanese high court upheld a death sentence to a former Aum Supreme Truth sect member and martial arts expert for his part in 10 murders including victims of a 1994 nerve gas attack.

Presiding judge Atsushi Semba turned down the appeal by Satoru Hashimoto, 36, at Tokyo High Court, rejecting the argument that his mind had been under control of Aum guru Shoko Asahara.

Hashimoto played a big part in mixing and then releasing the Nazi-invented sarin gas in 1994 outside an apartment block in Matsumoto, central Japan.

The fumes killed seven people and injured more than 100 others.

It was a horrific curtain-raiser to the infamous March 1995 gassing of Tokyo's subway by the same cult, which killed 12 people and injured thousands of other rush-hour passengers.

In 1989, Hashimoto had already joined with fellow cultists in the strangling murders of the lawyer, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, along with his wife and baby son.

They killed the lawyer because he campaigned against the cult by helping defectors.

Hashimoto was chosen for the crimes and as a guard for Asahara because of his karate skills, according to prosecutors. He honed his martial art skills at school and won a karate championship held at the Aum Supreme Truth sect.

Japanese media dubbed him a "combatant" in Aum's commando unit.

In April, prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara, 48, who has been on trial for more than seven years as the mastermind of Aum crimes which resulted in the deaths of 27 people.

Asahara, who led the yoga-practicing cult with a mixture of Indian mysticism and primitive Buddhism -- and with his visions of an apocalyptic war against the establishment -- did not physically take part in the release of sarin gas.

Nine of Asahara's disciples, including Hashimoto, have been sentenced to hang in connection with the gas attacks and the murder of the lawyer's family.

None of the sentences have yet been carried out.

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