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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Cult member may face hanging

Twelve died in the gas attack in Tokyo in 1995

By Tokyo Correspondent Juliet Hindell

A member of the Aum Doomsday Cult could face the death penalty after prosecution lawyers recommended it at his trial.

Masato Yokoyama is one of the many cult members on trial for his part in the sarin gas attack, which killed 12 and injured thousands more on Tokyo commuter trains in 1995.

[ image: Fresh raids were launched against Aum in Tokyo and Osaka]
Fresh raids were launched against Aum in Tokyo and Osaka
But this is the first time that the prosecution has asked for the death penalty for a cult member for taking part in the gas attack.

Masato Yokoyama is accused of releasing sarin nerve gas on an underground train.

As no one on the train he was riding was killed, the decision to ask for the death penalty is surprising.

But lawyers said that did not mitigate the fact that he had taken an active role in the fatal attack.

If he were convicted he would face hanging. About five people are executed in Japan each year.

Fear of Aum growing

The Japanese government has become increasingly concerned recently that Aum may be regaining its former strength.

A government committee met on Monday to discuss how to crack down on the cult.

[ image: Police say shops are used to raise funds]
Police say shops are used to raise funds
Cabinet ministers have already expressed regret that the cult was not banned outright after the sarin incident under the anti-subversive activities law.

A panel of experts ruled in 1997 that Aum no longer posed a threat to society and therefore the law could not be used.

The government is now considering revising the law so that it can be invoked against Aum.

In recent weeks several of Aum's sites, including computer shops, have been raided by the police.

Aum is known to be actively recruiting and raising funds through its computer sales. However, the cult says it is the victim of religious suppression.

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Internet Links

American Family Foundation: Aum Information

Aum Shinri Kyo homepage

Japan Times: Aum chronology

Japan's National Police Agency

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