Yoshiyuki Kouno (河野 義行, born February 1950) was a victim of the Matsumoto incident, a sarin attack that killed seven people and sickened many more in Matsumoto, Japan, on the evening of 27 June and the following morning on 28 June, 1994. Despite the fact that his wife was one of the people who have been gassed and was comatose at the time, the investigating police considered Yoshiyuki Kouno a prime suspect in the crime. Due to the deliberate leak from the local Nagano police force, Japanese media treated Kouno as the perpetrator, dubbing him the "Poison Gas Man" and he subsequently received hate mail and death threats. It was revealed that Kouno had a large amount of pesticides stored at his residence. Historian Keiichi Tsuneishi claimed in the Asahi Shimbun, the second most circulated newspaper out of the five national newspapers in Japan, that the nerve agent is synthesizable from organophosphorus pesticides when in fact sarin cannot be manufactured from pesticides.
However, after the much larger attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Kouno was cleared of blame, Aum Shinrikyo was deemed responsible. The head of National Public Safety Commission Hiromu Nonaka and media publicly apologised to Kouno. However, Nagano police did not directly apologise to Kouno until 2002.
While no sufficient evidence of Kouno's involvement was found, he was accused by the media in perpetrating the attack when police hinted at possibility of his involvement. While actually this was in violation of basic legal rights of the citizen, police could get away with it since the source that provided the information to the media was quoted as anonymous.
Kouno later participated in many media events in defence of Aum, arguing that since the time he was wrongly accused in connection to the incident, he realised how vulnerable innocent victims are to media hate campaigns. Pointing to his own personal experience with the media industry and police, he drew parallels to innocent Aum members who suffered public alienation and unceremonious intrusion into their private life justified mostly by fears generated by the sensationalistic media rather than any proof of actual guilt. Together with Yoshihiro Yasuda, a veteran attorney arrested during his defence of Aum's founder Shoko Asahara, he also campaigned against the death penalty and delivered speeches and lectures explaining the impact of Japan's judicial system on suspects and wrongly accused, as well as the social impact on relatives and associates.
Kouno's wife emerged from her coma after several years, but never regained her powers of speech or vision. She died in August 5, 2008 at age 60.
- Keiichi, Tsuneishi (July 4, 1994). "市販薬でも作れる猛毒サリン 知識や経験あれば可能 松本の中毒死" [Deadly poisonous sarin synthesizable from over-the-counter drug, possible with experience and knowledge. Death by poisoning in Matsumoto]. The Asahi Shimbun, morning edition.
- "Ex-suspect attends 1st meeting as Nagano safety commissioner". Kyodo News. 2002-07-22. Retrieved 2008-01-06.
- (Japanese) Official Website
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