The Tokyo District Court has demanded that the publisher of a weekly magazine withdraw copies of its latest issue, which carries courtroom photographs of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, it was learned Monday.
The court lodged a formal protest with the editorial department of the Weekly Post and publisher Shogakukan Inc. for carrying trial photographs of the cult guru, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, in the magazine’s Sept. 20 issue, which hit the stands Monday.
The magazine has explained to the court that the photos were secretly taken by a freelance photographer during Asahara’s June 21 and July 4 trial sessions.
Photographers are banned from taking photos of courtroom proceedings. Photos and video footage can only be taken after the judges are seated and before the accused enters the courtroom.
The photographs were “taken without permission and are illegal,” said the court, which called on the publisher to halt sales of the issue and recall copies already sold.
The magazine’s editor in chief, however, told the court that the editorial department decided to carry the pictures because it believed it was meaningful to do so, given the importance of the Aum trials, the court said.
Editor in Chief Takaaki Ebihara argued that it is the media’s responsibility to fully respond to the people’s right to know.
“The public has been shut off from any information regarding a suspect accused of serious crimes that left scores of victims,” he said. “We have thoroughly debated the matter of journalistic responsibility.”
Asahara stands accused of masterminding a number of crimes, including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured thousands of others, and the 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that claimed seven lives and injured hundreds.
It was the second time that the magazine published pictures of Asahara taken without permission during his court proceedings. It used a photo of Asahara when he appeared at his first trial session in April 1996.
After receiving complaints from the court, the magazine expressed regret over carrying the picture and promised to insert a message to that effect in the magazine’s next issue.
Court official Osamu Ikeda said it is “extremely regrettable” that the magazine committed the same offense twice, noting appropriate punitive measures will be taken after a thorough investigation is conducted.
Weekly newsmagazine Friday also carried photos taken of Asahara in court in 1996 and 1998, but its publisher, Kodansha Ltd., refused to comply with the court’s request to withdraw those issues.
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