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AUM death row inmates moved under cover of 'policing exercise': Justice Ministry docs

The Tokyo Detention Center building is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Tokyo's Katsushika Ward, on Dec. 7, 2011. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The March transfer of seven former AUM Shinrikyo cultists on death row from the Tokyo Detention Center to facilities across Japan was conducted under the cover of a "broad area policing exercise," the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The transfers on March 14 and 15 to five other facilities were carried out after the Tokyo Detention Center filed a transfer request on the first of the month with the Justice Ministry's Correction Bureau, which mobilized the necessary personnel as part of a "drill" in order to maintain secrecy. It is extremely rare for processes behind the transfers of death row inmates to be revealed. The Mainichi obtained partially blacked out documents detailing the moves through a freedom of information request.

All 13 onetime AUM cultists on death row, including now 63-year-old leader Chizuo Matsumoto (also known as Shoko Asahara), had been held at the Tokyo detention facility.

In the transfer request dated March 1, the Tokyo Detention Center warden writes that keeping all 13 AUM death row inmates in one place "is incurring a considerable load." The warden cited the need to keep the former cultists isolated from one another; worries that figures in AUM's three successor organizations may seek to break into the facility to free the inmates; and threats to public security should there be any inappropriate exchanges between the inmates and the outside world.

The warden then pointed out that there is no reason for detaining all the 13 at the Tokyo Detention Center because all AUM-related criminal trials ended in January.

The Correction Bureau accepted the request and sent a notice on March 12 to the Tokyo Detention Center and other facilities related to the transfers informing them of a "policing exercise" on March 14 and 15. On March 13, the bureau notified these facilities that the exercise would be called off, while also ordering the transfer of the seven death row prisoners. One senior Justice Ministry official commented, "We needed to mobilize a lot of people to guarantee security and deal with other issues for these unprecedented transfers. We set them up as an 'exercise' to make sure news of the transfers didn't leak until right before they were carried out."

The moves began in the early morning of March 14. The transfer to Fukuoka Detention Center in Kyushu took two days as it was done via an overland route. According to a source related to the transfers, inmates Tomomitsu Niimi, 54, and Yoshihiro Inoue, 48, were sent to the Osaka Detention Center; Kazuaki Okazaki (now Miyamae), 57, and Masato Yokoyama, 54, were transferred to the Nagoya Detention Center; Yasuo Hayashi (now Koike), 60, was moved to the Sendai detention facility attached to Miyagi Prison; Tomomasa Nakagawa, 55, to the Hiroshima Detention Center, and 68-year-old Kiyohide Hayakawa was shifted to Fukuoka.

"The inmates' transfers are unrelated to the timing of their executions," the Justice Ministry stated.

(Japanese original by Issei Suzuki, Foreign News Department, and Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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