Japan death row executions: hangings secretive, backed by public

Shoko Asahara guru of the doomsday Aum Shinrikyo cult October 1 1990

Japan executed the leader and six followers of a doomsday cult Friday, July 6, 2018, for a series of deadly crimes including a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people in 1995.

Five Aum Shinrikyo members boarded subway cars on three different lines in central Tokyo during rush hour, carrying plastic bags filled with sarin.

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

The justice ministry would not immediately confirm that Asahara had been hanged, nor reports that several other cult members would also be put to death Friday.

"We should have heard more stories from the people involved and deepened discussions in society to get to the bottom as to why such crimes related to religion happened", Ogawara said.

Japan's Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa says she signed orders to execute 7 death row convicts linked to the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult after careful consideration.

Virtually every aspect of Aum Shinrikyo's crimes and the prosecution has been the subject of deep controversy in Japan over the years.

Yuji Ogawara, who heads a lawyers' group against the death penalty at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said the executions do not bring closure to Aum's crimes.

He masterminded a horrific attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, where his cultists released sarin gas inside a packed train.

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The executions were carried out by hanging, beginning with the leader himself, whose real name was Chizuo Matsumoto.

As the cult's following grew, which included highly educated scientists and engineers, stories began circulating about brainwashing and abuse within Aum Shinrikyo.

It is thought that it had 10,000 followers at its peak and the group gained official status as a religious organisation in Japan just two years after it was formed.

Six other people are still sentenced to die in connection to the 1995 attack and other Aum Shinrikyo crimes. Asahara also preached apocalyptic prophesies, which were the genesis of the subway attack: He believed the end of the world was coming, and the attack was a way to prepare.The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty ImagesPRESS CONFERENCEShoko Asahara (center) at a press conference in October 25, 1990. Six other cult members remain on death row. "I regret that is no longer possible".

Between 2012 and 2016, 24 people were executed, according to the most recent justice ministry data.

His followers claimed their guru, who dressed in Chinese-style pyjama tunics, had extra-sensory powers and could levitate for hours at a time.

Though concerns about the Aum had already been raised, the attack prompted a massive crackdown on the cult's headquarters in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where authorities discovered a plant capable of producing enough sarin to kill millions.

Asahara and 12 of his followers were sentenced to death by hanging after lengthy trials.

This photo from 1995 shows subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas being carried into a hospital.

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