2018 Death Penalty report: Saudi Arabia’s False Promise

With crown prince Mohammed bin Salman at the helm, 2018 was a deeply violent and barbaric year for Saudi Arabia, under his de facto leadership.
PhotoDeera Square is a public space located in front of the Religious Police building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in which public executions (usually by beheading) take place. It is sometimes known as Justice Square and colloquially called Chop Chop Square. After Friday prayers, police and other officials clear the area to make way for the execution to take place. After the beheading of the condemned, the head is stitched to the body which is wrapped up and taken away for the final rites.
This year execution rates of 149 executions, shows an increase from the previous year of three executions, indicating that death penalty trends are soaring and there is no reversal of this trend in sight.
The execution rates between 2015-2018 are amongst the highest recorded in the Kingdom since the 1990s and coincide with the ascension of king Salman to the t…

Japan executes last Aum Shinrikyo members on death row

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Japan has executed the remaining members of a cult behind the deadly 1995 Sarin attack on the Tokyo subway.

The six men were the last members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult on death row, and were executed on Thursday, the justice ministry said.

Seven others responsible for the attack, including leader Shoko Asahara, were put to death earlier this month.

The Sarin attack, Japan's worst terror incident, killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

The cult was accused of several other murders and an earlier Sarin gas attack in 1994 which killed eight and left 600 injured.

"The pain and anguish of the people who were killed and their families as well as of the survivors left with disabilities, was unimaginable," said justice minister Yoko Kamikawa at a news conference.

Those put to death on Thursday included a key Aum Shinrikyo recruiter and cult members who released the nerve gas in train carriages, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK.

➤ Related content: Aum cult founder Asahara, 6 followers hanged

The execution of all 12 cult members involved in the attack as well as Asahara had been postponed until their final appeals were completed, which happened in January.

What was the Tokyo attack?

The aftermath of the 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system.
On 20 March 1995, cult members released Sarin on the subway in the Japanese capital.

Witnesses described noticing packages leaking some liquid and feeling stinging fumes hitting their eyes soon afterwards.

The toxin struck victims down in a matter of seconds, leaving them choking and vomiting, some blinded and paralysed. Thirteen people died.

Aum Shinrikyo, often shortened to Aum, believed that the end of the world was coming and that those outside the cult would go to hell - unless they were killed by cult members.

In the months after, members of the cult made several failed attempts to release hydrogen cyanide in various stations.

What is Aum Shinrikyo?

The cult, whose name means "supreme truth", began in the 1980s as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, later working in elements of apocalyptic Christian prophesies.

Cult leader Shoko Asahara declared himself to be both Christ and the first "enlightened one" since Buddha.

Aum Shinrikyo gained official status as a religious organisation in Japan in 1989 and picked up a sizeable global following.

The group gradually became a paranoid doomsday cult, convinced the world was about to end in a global war and that only they would survive.

The cult went underground after the 1995 attack, but did not disappear, renaming itself Aleph or Hikari no Wa.

Aum Shinrikyo is designated a terrorist organisation in the US and many other countries, but Aleph and Hikari no Wa are both legal in Japan, although designated as "dangerous religions" subject to surveillance.

Source: BBC News, July 26, 2018

Japan hangs all 6 remaining Aum death row inmates

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
Japan executed Thursday all six former members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult who remained on death row following the execution of founder Shoko Asahara and six other members earlier this month, the justice minister said.

The six — Satoru Hashimoto, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Yasuo Hayashi, Masato Yokoyama and Kazuaki Okazaki — were convicted of involvement in one or more of three crimes — the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, another sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, and the murders of a lawyer, his wife and their baby son in 1989.

"I ordered the executions after giving it careful repeated consideration," said Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, adding she gave the green light Tuesday.

"The suffering of the victims, bereaved families and those who survived are unimaginable," she said.

Asahara, the mastermind of the series of crimes committed by the cult, was executed along with six of his former followers on July 6, nearly 12 years after his death sentence was finalized by the Supreme Court in September 2006.

The crimes, which courts said were committed to further Asahara's bid to "control Japan in the name of salvation," resulted in the deaths of 29 people among a total of over 6,500 victims.

Japan has faced persistent international criticism for its death penalty.

The executions came at a time when the country is preparing for the abdication of Emperor Akihito in 2019, which will end the current Heisei era that started after Emperor Hirohito's death in 1989. With the cult's crimes being the deadliest terror attacks in the country during the era, the authorities decided to draw a line under them before the era comes to a close, according to sources.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference the justice minister "must have made the decision in light of upcoming schedules among various other factors."

Trials over the cult's crimes ended this January, meaning there was no need to keep the executions of the 13 on hold for trials of accomplices.

All 13 Aum death row inmates were initially kept at the Tokyo detention center, but seven of them were transferred to other facilities across the country in March, fanning speculation they could be executed anytime.

The order in which the inmates were executed apparently reflects ranks within the cult as the first group of inmates put to death were the leader and senior members who were described as ministers or secretaries in the cult, which adopted an organizational structure resembling the national government.

Lawyer Taro Takimoto, who was subjected to an Aum sarin attack, said the latest executions were "cruel," writing on his blog he wondered how the six executed Thursday must have felt during the 20 days since Asahara and the first six were hanged.

Japanese security authorities are stepping up vigilance and closely monitoring Aum's successor organizations — Aleph and two splinter groups.

Aum Shinrikyo evolved from a yoga school established by Asahara in 1984 and had about 1,400 live-in followers and over 10,000 lay followers at its height.

The doomsday cult also attracted over 30,000 other followers in Russia, which designated the group a terrorist organization in 2016. A senior member was arrested in Russia in May for recruiting others, indicating it is still active overseas.

Source: Japan Today, July 26, 2018

Japanese justice minister’s 16 execution orders the most since end of death penalty moratorium in 1993

Gallows trapdoor at Tokyo Detention Center
With the hangings of six former members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult Thursday, Yoko Kamikawa became the justice minister who has ordered the most executions, 16, since Japan lifted its 40-month moratorium on the death penalty in 1993.

Thirteen of the 16 executed individuals were former members of the doomsday cult. Aum founder Shoko Asahara, who masterminded the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and other heinous crimes, and six others were hanged earlier this month.

Kamikawa ordered one execution during her yearlong stint as justice minister from October 2014. 

Since resuming the position in August last year, she has ordered two executions in December and 13 this month.

All of the orders were under the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan implemented a moratorium on the death penalty between November 1989 and March 1993 due to increasing international pressure to abolish capital punishment. 

Justice Minister Masaharu Gotoda, during the administration of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, lifted the moratorium and executions have taken place roughly every six months to a year since then.

Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura, a lawyer-turned-politician, did not greenlight any executions during his 11 months in office between October 2005 and September 2006 under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, citing his Buddhist beliefs.

Gallows at Tokyo Detention Center
His successor, Jinen Nagase, took the opposite approach and ordered executions for 10 death row inmates before he stepped down in August 2007.

Nagase’s successor Kunio Hatoyama further accelerated the pace of executions by carrying them out roughly every two months, sending 13 inmates to the gallows by the time he left office in August 2008. 

The Asahi Shimbun daily dubbed him the Grim Reaper.

When the Democratic Party of Japan came to power after defeating the Liberal Democratic Party in a 2009 general election, the pace of executions slowed.

Nine death row inmates were hanged by justice ministers of DPJ administrations up until the LDP retook power in 2012.

Keiko Chiba, the first justice minister under the DPJ administration and a lawyer who belonged to an anti-death penalty parliamentarian group before assuming the post, initially took a cautious stance on executions, but eventually ordered hangings of two inmates in July 2010. 

In an unusual move, she witnessed the executions and allowed members of the media to visit the execution chamber at the Tokyo Detention House the following month in a bid to stir public debate over the death penalty.

After the LDP came back to power in December 2012, justice ministers ordered executions periodically, with Sadakazu Tanigaki sending 11 inmates to the gallows, Mitsuhide Iwaki four and Katsutoshi Kaneda three.

Source: The Japan Times, July 26, 2018

6 remaining ex-AUM cult members on death row executed

Chizuo Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara
TOKYO -- The Ministry of Justice announced on July 26 that the six remaining former members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult on death row over a series of terror and murder cases were executed the same day.

Their hangings followed the executions on July 6 of seven former cult members including leader Shoko Asahara, whose real name was Chizuo Matsumoto, over the same cases.

The latest executions, signed off by Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa, came as the last enforcement of criminal punishment on all 190 cult members and related individuals convicted in the terror cases, which included fatal attacks using the deadly sarin nerve gas by the cult on Tokyo's subway system in 1995. The terror cases and murders committed by the cult deeply shocked Japan.

Following the executions, Justice Minister Kamikawa told a press conference that the crimes committed by the ex-cultists were heinous and should never happen again. "I gave the (execution) orders after giving repeated careful considerations," she said.

 It is extremely rare for the government to carry out executions on two occasions in a single month. The total number of executions approved by Kamikawa now stands at 16, including three she ordered during her previous tenure between October 2014 and October 2015. 

The number is the highest among justice ministers since 1993, when executions were resumed following a suspension of three years and four months due to the stance of justice ministers during the period, among other reasons. The previous high was 13, held by the late former Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama.

Those executed on July 26 are the following, in the order of their death penalty finalized by court: Kazuaki Okasaki, 57, who had earlier changed his surname to Miyamae, at the Nagoya Detention Center; Masato Yokoyama, 54, at the same facility; Satoru Hashimoto, 51, at the Tokyo Detention Center; Yasuo Hayashi, 60, who had his surname changed to Koike, at a Sendai Detention Center branch; Toru Toyoda, 50, at the Tokyo Detention Center; and Kenichi Hirose, 54, at the same Tokyo facility.

The six death row inmates, like the seven former cult members executed earlier this month, committed at least one of the following three crimes: The murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their baby son; the sarin attack in the central Japan city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture; and the Tokyo subway attack. All of them were convicted and placed on death row from 2005 through 2009.

Control room (with execution buttons) and gallows trapdoor, Tokyo Detention Center.The 13 convicts had been held in the Tokyo Detention Center until seven of them, excluding Matsumoto, were moved to five other detention facilities nationwide in March this year.

According to the court rulings that were finalized and other sources, Okasaki, who was the first among the 13 to see his death sentence finalized, was involved in the Sakamoto murders. He later quit the cult and confessed to his crime. 

Yokoyama, on the other hand, sprayed sarin gas in the subway attack but no one on the train car he deployed the deadly chemical died as a result. Hashimoto played a role in the lawyer's case and drove the car used to spray the nerve agent in the Matsumoto case.

Hayashi was involved in creating the car with the capability to spray sarin, and killed eight people in the subway attack using three bags of the poison. Toyoda and Hirose also sprayed sarin on the Hibiya and Marunouchi subway lines, each killing one person.

The latest executions mark the 14th application of the death penalty since the inauguration of the second Abe administration in December 2012, with 34 death row inmates executed in total.

Source: The Mainichi, July 26, 2018

Japan: 'unprecedented execution spree' continues as six more Aum cult members hanged

Amnesty International
Japan’s recent spate of executions will not make the country safer, said Amnesty International, in reaction to the executions of a further six members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) this morning (Thursday 26 July).

July has now seen 13 people executed for their involvement in the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed 13 people and injured thousands more, as well as their involvement in other illegal activities. The last time Japan executed more than 10 people in a year was in 2008. It is also extremely rare for Japan to carry out two rounds of executions in the same month.

Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International, said:  

“This unprecedented execution spree, which has seen 13 people killed in a matter of weeks, does not leave Japanese society any safer. The hangings fail to address why people were drawn to a charismatic guru with dangerous ideas.
“The taking of a life in retribution is never the answer. It is high time for the Japanese authorities to establish an immediate moratorium on all executions and promote an informed debate on the death penalty as first steps towards its abolition.” 

The six people executed in the early hours of Thursday morning were: Satoru Hashimoto, Yasuo Koike (Hayashi), Kenichi Hirose, Kazuaki Okazaki (Miyamae), Toru Toyota, Masato Yokoyama. Four of those hanged had requests for a retrial pending.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution and has been campaigning for abolition of the death penalty for more than 40 years.

Source: Amnesty International, July 26, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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