Aum Shinri Kyo leader ordered to gallows

Itar-Tass/February 27, 2004

Tokyo -- Shoko Asahara, former leader of Aum Shinri Kyo sect, will be sent to the gallows for a series of violent crimes, including the organization of a gas attack in the Tokyo subway in March, 1995.

The Tokyo district court passed the death sentence to the sect leader on Thursday after a trial that continued for almost eight years.

The former Japanese cult guru accused of ordering a 1995 gas attack on Tokyo subway trains was found guilty of all 13 charges against him that involved the death of 27, numerous abductions and illegal weapons productions. The most conspicuous cases masterminded by the sect leader was a nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995, a similar gas attack staged in the city of Matsumoto a year earlier, the murder of a lawyer who helped victims of the sect and was killed with his family.

The court ruled that Shoko Asahara, 48, be hanged for masterminding the subway attack and separate crimes that killed other people.

Police wearing bullet proof jackets and protective helmets cordoned off the court building where the hearings were held. Shoko Asahara was secretly brought into the court building, after a false convoy had been sent beforehand so as to divert public attention. There were only 38 seats for visitors in the courtroom that were given to the lucky ones chosen by lottery out of almost 4,700 volunteers who wished to be present in the courtroom to hear the court pass a verdict to the man believed to be the most hazardous person in all the previous Japanese criminal chronicles. Earlier, eleven sect members and militants had been sentenced to death. Asahara is the last sect member sentenced to death.

None of the death sentences have been executed yet, pending resolutions of the court of appeal. Asahara's lawyers are expected to appeal against the verdict to the Supreme Court, starting another lengthy legal process that could take another decade.

The trial began in April, 1996 with around three million dollar expenditures involved. Since then, more than 170 witnesses have been interrogated.

Asahara pleaded not guilty. He had not communicated with anyone, including his lawyers, for most of the time while the investigation continued. The lawyers had demanded Asahara's acquittal, declaring that other sect members who wrongly interpreted the vague instructions given by their leader committed Aum Shinri Kyo crimes.

Asahara's sect combined supernatural forecasts of a coming apocalypse with an ability to create high-tech modes of mass destruction, such as nerve gas, home- made Kalashnikov guns.

In Russia, the Aum Shinri Kyo sect managed to create a ramified organization that was banned in 1995.

In the late 1990s the Aum Shinri Kyo sect numbered around 35,000 followers.

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