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As AUM cult trials end, Justice Ministry turns attention to death sentences

The Justice Ministry will shortly begin considering whether and when 13 former AUM Shinrikyo cult members sentenced to death should be executed, after the final trials of former cultists wrapped up on Jan. 19.

The 13 death row inmates, including cult founder Shoko Asahara, have been convicted for their involvement in at least one of three murder cases -- the murders of anti-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family in November 1989, a June 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and the March 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Seiichi Endo, 57, was the last to have his death sentence finalized.

According to the Justice Ministry, death row inmates who were executed between 2008 and 2017 were hanged an average of five years and two months after their death sentences were confirmed. However, Endo remains alive some six years after his death sentence was finalized in December 2011.

The Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that the justice minister must order the execution of a death row inmate within six months after the sentence is confirmed and becomes irrevocable. However, the time up to when rulings on the convict's accomplices are confirmed is not included in the six-month period.

According to those familiar with the situation, 62-year-old Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is in solitary confinement at the Tokyo Detention Center, and is asking the Tokyo District Court to retry his case. Most of the other 12 have reportedly filed requests for retrial.

Execution of death row inmates had previously tended to be avoided while they were asking for a retrial. However, inmates were executed in July and December last year despite pending retrial requests.

Bearing in mind former AUM members whose death sentences have been finalized, a high-ranking official of the ministry said, "Death row inmates (who formerly belonged to the AUM cult) will be executed in a methodical manner if certain conditions are met."

In response to a civil case Asahara's fourth daughter has filed with the Yokohama Family Court, the Tokyo Detention Center reported to the court in May last year, "The inmate has not shown clear signs of mental disability. If urged to leave his cell to do exercise or take a bath, he complies, but he has stubbornly refused to meet visitors."

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