Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara was ordered out of the courtroom Wednesday after being summoned to the trial of his former disciples and failing to give clear consent when asked to take an oath.
Asahara, 43, was scheduled to testify as a defense witness for three cultists alleged to have been involved in the March 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Toru Toyoda, 30, Kenichi Hirose, 34, and Shigeo Sugimoto, 39, were flanked by guards and seated in the courtroom when Asahara, attired in a blue fleece jacket and gray sweat pants, was brought in.
Asahara mumbled in a mixture of English and Japanese, but most of his statements were unintelligible, since he spoke in a soft, low tone. At one point, he was heard saying in English, “I can’t use … signature …” and “So if you can … language.”
But when asked to identify himself, Asahara said he was Chizuo Matsumoto. This contrasts with his statement at the first hearing of his own trial, in which he said he had abandoned his real name.
Asahara mumbled on as Judge Manabu Yamazaki asked him to state his profession and address.
When Asahara failed to respond, Yamazaki asked him if he was willing to testify. Asahara muttered in what sounded like English, and then nodded.
But Yamazaki ordered Asahara out of the courtroom after repeatedly asking him if he would consent to have his name signed for the written oath by a court official, since he reportedly has weak eyesight.
The judge’s decision not to let Asahara testify ignited protests from the defendants’ lawyers, who said Asahara told the judge it was “inevitable” that someone else would have to sign his name.
“We have maintained many times in this court that it is crucial that (Asahara) testify,” a defense lawyer said. “We must say it is overly authoritative of the court to reject his testimony on such a perfunctory reason (as not speaking Japanese).”
Although acknowledging that he caught the word “inevitable,” Yamasaki still disagreed with the lawyers, saying Asahara did not give clear consent.
The court session ended about an hour and 15 minutes after it convened. As the judge announced the court’s adjournment, some people from the gallery shouted at the judges, saying the court insulted those who attended the hearing by depriving them of a chance to hear Asahara speak.
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