The Justice Ministry began transferring seven of the 13 former Aum Shinrikyo cult members on death row from a Tokyo detention center to other facilities, sources said Wednesday, likely moving them one step closer to their execution dates.
As the Aum-related trials wrapped up in January, the ministry is believed to be considering when they should be hanged for a series of crimes that left a total of 29 people dead.
The transfers are expected to be completed by Thursday, the sources said.
According to the sources and support groups, the seven members are: Tomomasa Nakagawa, 55; Tomomitsu Niimi, 54; Yasuo Hayashi (or Koike), 60; Kiyohide Hayakawa, 68; Yoshihiro Inoue, 48; Masato Yokoyama, 54; and Kazuaki Okazaki (or Miyamae), 57.
The founder of the cult, Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains at the Tokyo detention center, they said.
All 13 death row inmates linked to the doomsday cult had been housed in the Tokyo facility, including Asahara, 63, who masterminded the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack, one of the nation’s worst terrorist incidents. The attack on the Tokyo subway system killed 13 people and left more than 6,000 others ill.
There are execution facilities in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. It is unclear where the seven members were sent, the sources say.
Around 190 people with ties to the cult have been indicted. In addition to the 13 sentenced to death, six others received life sentences.
The 13 inmates were charged for their parts in the Tokyo subway attack, the 1989 murders of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-Aum lawyer, as well as his wife and son, and another sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994.
Toxicologist Anthony Tu, 87, who is investigating the Aum incidents, visited Nakagawa at the Tokyo detention center on Tuesday. Nakagawa told him that he could be transferred and that it could be their last meeting, according to Tu.
Minoru Kariya, 58, whose father, a notary clerk, was abducted and killed by the group in February 1995, welcomed the ministry’s move. “It has been frustrating because taxes paid by the victims and their families are used to keep the inmates alive.”
The trials of the Aum members finally came to a close in January of this year after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s life sentence handed to Katsuya Takahashi, 59, one of three who had been on the run for 20 years.
In Japan, it is customary not to hang death row inmates until the sentences of their accomplices are finalized.