Authorities have decided to permanently preserve trial records of criminal cases involving the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult as part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the serious crimes committed by its members, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Friday.
“Their crimes were unprecedented, and similar crimes should never happen again. It is my important duty to stop (the records) from being discarded while ensuring they are passed down to future generations,” said Kamikawa, under whose orders all 13 Aum death-row inmates, including founder Shoko Asahara, were executed last month.
It is extremely rare for the ministry to announce which criminal cases will have their trial records permanently preserved.
In addition to the trial documents, administrative records related to the executions are to be retained indefinitely, Kamikawa said. “I expect them to be stored in the National Archives in the future.”
Trial records, such as defendants’ statements, are normally disposed of after being held by prosecutors for a prescribed period of time.
When a case is considered meaningful for academic research or helpful for investigations of future crimes, the justice minister can order the preservation of related documents. As of the end of July, documents from 722 cases had been listed for conservation, but the ministry has not revealed the names of the people involved.
Most Aum-related records have been retained, but some — such as cases in which defendants were charged for minor crimes and sentenced to a fine — have already been discarded. A total of 190 people, including the 13 senior members hanged in July, were convicted.
A group of academics and journalists petitioned the ministry to retain the documents in April. They said the records should be retained because they are the property of the public and will be valuable for research into issues involving cults and terrorism.
Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died in the 1995 Aum sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system, assented to the petition and expressed her hope that it will be successful.