While the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara continues to move at a snail’s pace, the Tokyo District Court has already found three-quarters of his indicted followers guilty.
As of Aug. 7, 135 Aum followers had been indicted. Of them, 106 have received a ruling from the district court, including 103 guilty verdicts. Fifty-five prison terms were handed down and 48 suspended sentences, and 27 of the cult defendants have filed appeals, according to the district court.
The trials of key Aum members, however, continue and fall sessions are scheduled after an recess during August. The following are summaries of the major developments in the trials of senior cult members:
As one of the last trials to begin for a key Asahara disciple, the trial of Yasuo Hayashi, the last Aum fugitive believed to have been directly involved in the March 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system, opened in late June.
Hayashi, 39, who had been on Aum’s science team, has been indicted in connection with three cases. He admitted in court that he released nerve gas on a Tokyo subway car in March 1995. The simultaneous gas attack on five cars of three subway lines left 12 people dead and 3,795 injured.
He said in court that he became involved in the crime on the orders of other senior Aum members, but it was his understanding that the orders came from Asahara. “I was thus unable to oppose the orders,” he said.
He was arrested last December on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture after 18 months on the run. Ishigaki is about 300 km southwest of the main island of Okinawa.
Hayashi was arrested with a female cult member, Hideko Obora, who in March received an 18-month prison term, suspended for four years, for harboring the fugitive. “During my 18 months of flight, I was tormented by the gravity of the crimes,” Hayashi told the court. “I made a Buddhist altar and prayed for and apologized to the victims and their families. I am so sorry.”
In June, Asahara, who has been indicted in connection with 17 criminal cases, was to testify for the first time at the trial of another Aum defendant, 50-year-old Ikuo Hayashi, who is not related to Yasuo. But having taken the stand, Asahara refused to testify, forcing the closure of the session 20 minutes after it started.
Ikuo Hayashi, the one-time chief doctor for Aum who stands accused of being among those who carried out the deadly subway gas attack, has pleaded guilty to all the charges against him. He testified at Asahara’s trial that he released the nerve gas on a Tokyo subway car because he believed the order had been given by Asahara.
Standing before the court, Asahara only mumbled — sometimes in broken English — in a voice so low it was inaudible to those in the gallery. He ignored the presiding judge’s warning that witnesses who refuse to take the oath without good reason are subject to a fine. Asahara merely kept mumbling, prompting the judge to slap him with a 100,000 yen penalty.
Lawyers for Hayashi gave up on Asahara’s testimony for the session. But Hayashi did not hide his disapproval of his former guru’s behavior and severely criticized him.
“When I took the witness stand at your trial, you spoke to me loudly. But (today) you speak in a lower voice than usual and you even use English that you hated using before,” Hayashi told Asahara from the defendant’s seat.
His outburst prompted Asahara to retort loudly, “That’s enough.” Hayashi countered by saying if he could speak that loudly, he should be able to testify in court. But Asahara continued to ignore the judge, and the session was closed.
Some senior Aum members have meanwhile already been sentenced. Fumihiro Joyu, a former spokesman for Aum, was sentenced in March to three years in prison for his role in covering up the cult’s illegal purchase of land in Namino, Kumamoto Prefecture, in 1990.
The court found Joyu, 34, guilty of perjury and of forging private documents that required seals, saying the defendant “covered up the truth by all means possible” and committed “an extremely malicious crime that distorts the criminal justice system.” He filed an appeal with the high court in early April.
Joyu, who skillfully repelled allegations against Aum, represented the cult after Asahara was arrested in May 1995 until his own arrest in October of the same year.