Japanese police hold cult lawyer 1/36point



in Tokyo

There was a poetic justice about events yesterday morning when Yoshinobu Aoyama, lawyer of the Japanese religious cult Aum Shin Rikyo, turned up at a Tokyo police station to visit a detained Aum member, only to find himself placed under arrest.

It was no surprise, probably not even to Mr Aoyama himself. Aum Shin Rikyo, of which he is a high-ranking "priest", is under police investigation on suspicion of kidnappings, administering illegal drugs, and the manufacture and release of the sarin nerve gas which killed 12 people and poisoned 5,500 others on the Tokyo subway in March.

One hundred and fifty Aum members have already been taken into custody; posters for missing suspects adorn public buildings all over Japan. But the warrant for Mr Aoyama's arrest makes no mention of any of these crimes.

Instead, like many of his fellow detainees, he was on a minor charge; for libelling a fertiliser company whom he accused of gassing Aum members at the cult's Mount Fuji headquarters. Other members have been arrested for trespass, riding a stolen bike and for driving through a red light.

The strange charges shed little light on police thinking, but illustrate how the sarin affair is turning into a struggle between two secretive, inscrutable Japanese organisations. One is Aum Shinri Kyo. The other is the National Police Agency.

Japan's police is a popular institution and, even in the present bizarre circumstances, public criticism of police officers is rare. On the face of it, it is the most successful force on earth. Japan suffers one robbery per 100,000 people, compared with 66 in Britain and 233 in America. Clear- up rates are equally staggering: 96 per cent of murder investigations and 76 per cent of robberies end in an arrest.

With their blue uniforms, bicycles, and discreetly holstered hand-guns, the police are a friendly and familiar presence even in the smallest communities. Six thousand koban, or police boxes, are manned day and night and can always be relied upon for directions, assistance in finding lost wallets, and the price of a train fare home. But by any standard the last six weeks have been a disaster. The biggest investigation since the Second World War has so far come up with much circumstantial evidence, but nothing directly identifying the sarin killers. To make matters worse, the NPA itself appears to have become a target.

The old-fashioned community policing in which Japan excels is quite unsuited to the hi-tech terrorists who launched the subway attack. A surprising, or suspicious, number of convictions are based on confession evidence, 90 per cent in certain courts. Suspects can be held for 23 days without charge, giving ample opportunity for police to squeeze out confessions, particularly in small communities where interrogator and prisoner may know one another.

An Amnesty International report on hanging in Japan suggests today that several death row prisoners have been convicted on the basis of forced confessions. But when the suspects are fanatics, or when the case depends on the minute sifting and analysis of difficult forensic evidence, the police are on less familiar ground. The biggest revelation of the past few weeks is how independent the Japanese police are. In part, this is a consequence of Japan's wartime past when the dreaded kempeitai military police acted as the enforcement arm of the nationalistic government. But it is beginning to look as if the NPA is not answerable to anyone.

"Without any firm evidence, they're creating the impression that Aum are the bad guys, and that the police are the white knights," said a lawyer on the Human Rights Committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. "By rationing information, they create competition between journalists, and focus all their attention on the cult, rather than on the investigation itself."

The creation of a consensus, as a prelude to action, is a crucial part of Japanese decision-making in politics and business as much as in law- enforcement. If nothing else, the Japanese police have achieved one remarkable victory over Mr Aoyama and his organisation: in the absence of all conclusive evidence, the entire country believes that they are guilty.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most