Cultist says Asahara ordered killing of Sakamoto

A former Aum Shinrikyo follower who has admitted being involved in the killing of an anti-Aum lawyer said Feb. 28 he believed at the time that cult founder Shoko Asahara had ordered the man to be killed.

However, in consideration of his own trial, 29-year-old Satoru Hashimoto refused to testify on how the original scheme for the murder was changed. He also refused to discuss how the Aum members killed the lawyer’s wife and son.

Asahara, 41, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, disturbed the hearing at the Tokyo District Court with his usual mumbling, sometimes loud, and requests to air his opinions. Hashimoto, who was summoned as a prosecution witness, said he was instructed by a senior Aum follower on Nov. 2, 1989, to join a team to kill Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a 33-year-old Yokohama lawyer representing parents who were hoping to get their children back from the cult.

Kiyohide Hayakawa told Hashimoto that they were going to “phowa” the lawyer and that everything would be taken care of by other members after Hashimoto knocked the lawyer down, according to the witness. Hashimoto interpreted phowa, a religious term that usually means to raise human souls to a higher stage, to mean killing, he said. No one in the cult but Asahara, the guru, could have made such a major decision as carrying out murder, Hashimoto said. Hashimoto could not refuse the order because he believed that putting Asahara’s will into practice was what Aum was all about and that he had no choice, he said.