Editor rues not probing Aum for body-burning story

The deputy editor of the Sunday Mainichi weekly magazine testified in court May 22 that he regrets not pursuing rumors that Aum Shinrikyo was burning bodies in an incinerator in 1989.

Chikahiro Hiroiwa, a former reporter for the weekly, appeared before the Tokyo District Court in the murder trial of cult founder Shoko Asahara. Hiroiwa was cross-examined by defense attorneys about the magazine’s extensive coverage of the cult.

In autumn 1989, the weekly ran a series called “The Insanity of Aum Shinrikyo,” exposing dubious activities by the sect such as blood-drinking initiation rituals that cost participants outrageous sums of money. Hiroiwa said that while interviewing residents near an Aum facility, he heard rumors that the smell of bodies being incinerated emanated from the facility, but that he did not pursue the rumors. “I was not persistent enough in investigating (the cult) and I am overcome with regret,” he said in a trembling voice. “I didn’t do enough in my job.”

Hiroiwa said the weekly found Aum abnormal because it demanded excessive donations from followers and they were not freely allowed to leave the cult. But a former cult member who testified during cross-examination by the defense May 22 said he could have easily left Aum at any time.

The follower had testified before for the prosecution that various rituals had been quite expensive and had no effect. Asahara, 42, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, mumbled as usual from the beginning of the morning session. But he angrily raised his voice in response to Hiroiwa’s remarks critical of Aum. Asahara’s comments were barely comprehensible, but he seemed to be insisting the religious group had the right to do what it was doing.