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Home >> World
UPDATED: 09:58, February 21, 2006
Former cult leader thought fit for trial
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Psychiatrists have concluded a former cult leader sentenced to die for the deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways is mentally fit to stand trial if his appeal goes ahead, a court official said yesterday.

Shoko Asahara, the former guru of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to hang in the gas assault and other attacks that killed a total of 27 people and injured thousands of others.

Asahara frequently dozed off, mumbled incoherently and made bizarre gestures during his first trial, which lasted eight years. His lawyers have appealed the ruling, arguing that he was unfit for trial and demanding psychiatric tests.

But court-appointed psychiatrists submitted a report to the Tokyo High Court yesterday saying Asahara "has not lost the ability to stand trial," a court

official said yesterday on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

If the court rules Asahara is competent, his appeal still could be thrown out because the defence team missed a deadline for filing an explanation of why they were appealing, news reports said. The lawyers have said they missed the deadline because they could not communicate with Asahara.

"Although there are signs of mental disorders as a result of detention, he has not developed a serious mental illness," public broadcaster NHK reported, quoting the psychiatric evaluation, adding that he has not lost his ability to communicate though he doesn't speak.

"It is believed that Asahara is still hoping that he will be found not guilty as he had been from the beginning."

Asahara lawyer Akio Matsushita said in an e-mail statement he could not comment on the court decision because he had not read the evaluation report. Another defence team member, Takeshi Matsui, could not be reached.

Asahara was convicted of masterminding the Tokyo assault, in which members of the doomsday cult released deadly sarin gas on trains converging on the government district in central Tokyo.

The attack killed 12 people, sent thousands to the hospital and paralyzed the centre of the city.

Asahara was also convicted of plotting a 1994 gas attack in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto that killed seven people, the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, and other slayings.

Asahara's defence has claimed the guru, who was born Chizuo Matsumoto, suffers from pathological mental stress caused by confinement. That assessment was backed up yesterday by an expert who examined him recently.

At its height, Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia.

The group has since renamed itself Aleph, and the Justice Ministry last month extended an order to keep it under close surveillance.

Twelve other members of Asahara's cult have also been sentenced to death for the subway gassing and other crimes. None have yet been executed.

Source: China Daily

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