JAPAN — On July 26, Japan hanged the final six members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult who remained on Death Row.
Earlier in July, Japan executed Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, and six other members of the cult.
All 13 executed prisoners had been convicted in connection with one or more capital crimes:
• A 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system
• A 1994 sarin attack in Nagano Prefecture
• A 1989 triple murder of a lawyer, his wife, and their infant son
In total, police arrested 190 people in connection with Aum Shinrikyo following the 1995 subway horror. That assault killed 13 and injured 6,000 and stands as the single greatest attack on Japan since World War II
The executed prisoners represented the top echelon of Aum Shinrikyo’s senior members. The cult’s name means “supreme truth.”
Japan’s Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa pointed out that the country had never executed so many prisoners in a single month, but elected to do so due to the “unprecedentedly heinous” nature of Aum Shinrikyo’s transgressions.
Also speaking to the press about the hangings, ex-cop Masahura Yamada, who investigated Aum Shinrikyo, said:
“After 20 years of investigation, the execution is adequate — although some people say we should hear more from them. Taking into account the agony and sorrow of victims and their families, it may be too late.”
The executions were announced only after they took place, as is the customary legal practice in Japan.
In a rare move, Justice Minister Kamikawa also announced that the Aum Shinrikyo trial records will be preserved, stating:
“Their crimes were unprecedented, and similar crimes should never happen again. It is my important duty to stop (the records) from being discarded while ensuring they are passed down to future generations.”
Typically, in Japan, trial records such as defendant’s statements are thrown out after being kept for a limited period.
Exceptions are made in cases considered potentially beneficial to academic studies and/or the investigation of other crimes. Aum Shinrikyo has been deemed a major exception.
Shoko Asahara, whose original name was Chizuo Matsumoto, founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984. The cult took off fast and, at one time, supposedly claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia.
In 1992, Ashara declared himself “the Christ” and predicted a third World War that would set off “nuclear Armageddon.” He often preached in favor of the apocalypse because it would bring “human relief.”
Ashara’s trial after the subway attack lasted eight years. In 2004, he was convicted of murder and terrorism, and sentenced to death. Japanese authorities hanged Ashara on July 6, 2018. He was 63.
Although Aum Shinrikyo has officially disbanded, reports estimate that nearly 2,000 people in three splinter groups continue to adhere to its practices — all, reportedly, under the watchful eye of authorities.
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Main photo: Shoko Asahara/YouTube video [screenshot]