National

Aum suspect still brainwashed: psychologist

Kyodo

Former Aum Shinrikyo member Katsuya Takahashi, who is awaiting trial, continues to behave as if brainwashed and apparently still adheres to the cult’s teachings, a social psychologist has told reporters.

“He is still influenced by the doctrine and looked like a believer,” said Rissho University professor Kimiaki Nishida, who met Takahashi at a detention center.

“The fear of a cult lies in being unable to be free of brainwashing despite leading a social life for a long time.”

Takahashi was on the run for around 17 years. It is the first time since his arrest in June 2012 that the 56-year-old’s condition has been publicly described.

The former cultist has been charged with murder for the deadly sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000.

Nishida met Takahashi in October at the Tokyo detention center at the request of his lawyers. His appearance had not changed since his arrest, the professor said.

Citing confidentiality, Nishida declined to reveal what he discussed with Takahashi, but he pointed to the possibility that a cult practice was still exerting a strong influence on him.

Aum taught its members to overcome difficulties by concentrating intensely on founder Shoko Asahara, 59, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and by not communicating with others.

Asahara is on death row for masterminding the sarin attack and other crimes.

Nishida has met many former Aum members, including death row inmate Yoshihiro Inoue, 44, and Makoto Hirata, 49, who in March this year was sentenced by the Tokyo District Court to nine years in prison for involvement in three crimes in 1995. Hirata turned himself in to the Tokyo police in 2011 after nearly 17 years on the run.

Nishida’s assessments of former Aum members have been admitted as evidence in court.

Inoue and Hirata appeared to abandon the doomsday cult’s doctrine after connecting with investigators during detention. Things appear different with Takahashi, Nishida said.

Takahashi’s lay judge trial begins on Jan. 16 at the Tokyo District Court.

The ruling is expected to be handed down as early as April.

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