In Japan, Mass Hanging of Cult Leader, 6 Followers

They were members of Aum Shinrikyo, responsible for Japan's worst terrorist attack
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 6, 2018 2:01 AM CDT
This Nov. 30, 1989, file photo shows Japanese doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara in Bonn, Germany.   (AP Photo/Roberto Pfeil, File)
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(Newser) – Japan on Friday executed the leader of a doomsday cult and six of his followers, public broadcaster NHK reports, a mass hanging that had been rumored for months. Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, was the head of Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo subway lines that killed 13 and injured more than 6,000 as well as other murders and other nerve gas attacks, one of which killed eight. Thirteen members of the cult had been sentenced to death; six are still awaiting execution. Japan does not carry out executions until all associated cases have been closed, with no more appeals pending; that happened in January, the BBC reports. Matsumoto, 63, had been imprisoned 22 years; his case was finalized in 2006, CNN reports.

Matsumoto founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984, and at its peak in the 1990s the cult had more than 10,000 members in Japan and thousands more in other countries; a successor group still has 1,500 members in Japan. The group's scientists produced nerve gas at its commune at the foot of Mount Fuji as Matsumoto, who claimed to be a messiah, preached what the Guardian describes as "a bizarre mix of Buddhist and Hindu meditation along with Christian and apocalyptic teachings, yoga, and the occult." There were reports of brainwashing and abuse in the cult, and after the 1995 attack dozens of followers were rounded up in police raids. Per the Japan Times, Matsumoto never offered an explanation for the group's crimes. After the executions, Amnesty International released a statement condemning them; it called the mass hanging "unprecedented in recent memory in Japan" and said the death penalty "is the ultimate denial of human rights." (Read more Aum Shinrikyo stories.)

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