Japan: Executions of seven Aum cult members fails to deliver justice

The executions in Japan of seven members of the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo (Aum) on Friday, including the group’s “guru”, Chizuo Matsumoto, does not deliver justice, Amnesty International said.

Justice demands accountability but also respect for everyone’s human rights. The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights.
Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

The executions are the first among the 13 people convicted and sentenced to death for their roles in the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and other illegal activities. The subway attack killed 13 people and left thousands more suffering the effects of the nerve gas.  

“Today’s executions are unprecedented in recent memory for Japan. The attacks carried out by Aum were despicable and those responsible deserve to be punished. However, the death penalty is never the answer,” said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.   

“Justice demands accountability but also respect for everyone’s human rights. The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights.”

The seven people executed in the early hours of Friday morning were: Chizuo Matsumoto, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Tomomitsu Niimi, Kiyohide Hayakawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya. The executions were carried out at detention centres across Japan. Some of those hanged may have had requests for a retrial pending.

In March, Japan again rejected recommendations to reform the country’s death penalty system. The recommendations were put forward by other states as part of a formal review of Japan’s human rights record at the United Nations.

“Instead of repeating the claim that executions are unavoidable because the public demands it, the Japanese government needs to step up and show leadership on human rights,” said Hiroka Shoji.

Amnesty International 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 over 40 years.

Is the Japanese government executing members of the Aum cult for convenience?