No-show by defense counsel halts Asahara trial

The trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara took another twist Mar. 14 when the Tokyo District Court opened but then canceled the proceedings because the defense counsel boycotted the session.

The court and prosecutors criticized the defense team over the boycott, which was prompted by a disagreement with the court over the busy trial schedule. Osamu Watanabe, Asahara’s chief lawyer, at his office, blamed the court taking the wrong approach toward carrying out the trial.

Asahara’s lawyers had said four trial sessions a month was beyond their capacity to provide a proper defense and asked the court to slow the pace of the proceedings. After the request was denied, the court-appointed defense asked to be dismissed. Because the court rejected this demand as well, the counsel opted to boycott.

The next hearing, scheduled for March 27, is expected to take place because the defense team has said it will attend. If the remainder of the court’s schedule is followed, the defense team will have attended three sessions this month.

Early Mar. 14, presiding Judge Fumihiro Abe waited for five minutes before he told prosecutors and the gallery that the opening of the session would be delayed for 35 minutes because the defense lawyers had not shown up. All of the approximately 90 people in the gallery were ordered to leave the courtroom for a recess. During the break, court officials tried to persuade the 12 lawyers to attend the hearing.