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In Japan, Signs Suggest Mass Execution Might Occur

Japan sentenced 13 Aum Shinrikyo members to die for sarin, other attacks
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 20, 2018 8:44 AM CDT

(Newser) – Japan may be readying itself for a mass hanging. The Guardian reports that signs suggest the long-awaited executions of the doomsday cult members behind the infamous 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway may soon come to pass. The two big indications: It reports the country typically holds off on executing multiple people for one crime until all the cases are completed, which in this instance happened in January. Second, seven of the 13 members of Aum Shinrikyo who have been sentenced to death were last week moved to detention facilities outside of Tokyo, which spurred the local media buzz.

  • The attack: The news comes on the 23rd anniversary of the March 20, 1995, attack, which killed 13 and sickened 6,300; 10 of the condemned were sentenced for this attack, the rest for other crimes. Japan Today reports the attack, for which other Aum members are serving prison sentences, involved bags containing liquid sarin being deposited on five trains and then punctured with pointed umbrella tips.

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  • The transfer: The Japan Times reports cult founder Shoko Asahara was not among those who were moved from the Tokyo facility that all 13 had been housed in. It reports there are execution facilities located in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka, but authorities didn't say where the seven now are.
  • The hangings: It's another secretive aspect to what is a very secretive process. The AP reports Japan will not announce the executions until they are finished; even family members and attorneys aren't informed in advance, and those who are hanged are generally told the morning of.
  • Historically: The AP reports the country typically hangs accomplices on a single day, and if it does so with the 10 convicted in the sarin attack it would mark the second-most in more than a century: Eleven people accused of plotting to take down the emperor were hanged Jan. 24, 1911. The Guardian notes that in 2008, Japan hanged 15 people, the highest total number in one year in "recent history."
  • The leader: Asahara, 63, never provided a motive for the attack, and talked "incoherently, occasionally babbling in broken English" during a trial that spanned eight years, per the AP. His family describes him as broken and in need of help, saying he defecates on the floor of his cell and has ceased talking to them or his lawyers.
  • Pleas: His family members aren't the only ones looking to stop the executions. The Japan Times reports the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery thinks all but Asahara should be spared, saying Monday, "Asahara was the brain and the others were merely the limbs." The Guardian adds that Amnesty International also wants the hangings stopped, and suggests that if they do go forward, it's part of the government's attempt to have the news forgotten before upcoming banner events, like the emperor's April 2019 abdication and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
(Read more Aum Shinrikyo stories.)

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