The death penalty has been affirmed for Masami Tsuchiya, the chemist who developed the sarin gas used in Aum Shinrikyo’s 1995 Tokyo subway attack. Depending on the source, the attack either killed 12 or 13 people and injured somewhere between 50 and over a thousand, depending on how you reckon such things — with a total of 6,000 seeking medical treatment.
Of the 13 cult members sentenced to death for their role in the attacks, Tsuchiya is the tenth to have his death penalty affirmed. Before being convicted in the Tokyo subway attack, he had already been convicted for an earlier sarin attack that killed 7 people in the city of Matsumoto.
Bizarrely, Masami Tsuchiya shares both first and last name with a Japanese rock musician.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal‘s Japan Realtime section:
The leader of the cult, Shoko Asahara, already sits on death row. He was sentenced to death in February 2004, ending an eight-year trial that found him guilty of 13 crimes. Mr. Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, lost his final appeal to overturn his death sentence in September 2006. In all, the death sentence has been finalized for 10 of the 13 found guilty, according to NHK.
The cult remains active today with about 1,500 followers and 34 facilities across the country, according to 2009 statistics compiled by Japanese authorities maintaining surveillance on the group. But membership numbers have dropped sharply from its peak in the 1990s when it reached the tens of thousands.
Japan, of course, possesses what just may be the world’s creepiest hanging chamber, which is saying something.
Hanging is specified in the Japanese Constitution as the method by which the condemned are executed, a practice that dates to the Meiji Period (1868-1912). After a de facto four-year moratorium owing to political debate on the issue, Japan resumed executing people in 1993. Though the number of people sentenced to death since 1993 is over 700, fewer than 100 people have been executed in that period.
Treason and homicide are punishable by death in Japan, but in cases of homicide it’s only multiple murders with special circumstances that qualify a defendant.
The Aum Shinrikyo cult’s belief system is syncretic, meaning it incorporates elements of different religions — notably Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. Leader Shoko Asahara believes that the world is beset by conspiracies engineered by Freemasons, the British Royal Family, the Jews, and the Dutch. He preaches that the United States (which, he says, is the Beast from the Book of Revelation) is destined to launch a nuclear World War III against Japan, killing everyone except the members of Aum Shinrikyo, who will survive the End Times.
Sarin is a nerve agent with effects similar to some pesticides. It was developed in Germany at the beginning of World War II and was loaded into artillery shells there, but was never used by the Germans in combat. It was produced in quantity both by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. It was one of the chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq supposedly had lots of, but only a single sarin attack was mounted by insurgents following the U.S. invasion. Their device was a dud, but two U.S. soldiers were treated for sarin exposure.