Justice may be blind, but when it comes to the death penalty in Japan, it does have a face.
From arrest warrant to apprehension and from indictment to trial to final appeals, the process leading up to the death penalty involves police, prosecutors, judges and prison staff, in what is often a long and drawn-out process.
Still, it falls upon one individual, the minister of justice, to issue the order to proceed with an execution.
Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa's personal views on the death penalty and how it might impact on her political career notwithstanding, she was faced with the obligation of signing off on the executions of the leader, Shoko Asahara (real name Chizuo Matsumoto) and 12 senior members of the Aum Supreme Truth Cult, who had been tried, found guilty and sentenced to death.
More's the point, heavy pressure was being made to bear for the government to clear the decks, so to speak, before the scheduled abdication of Emperor Akihito next April, so that Crown Prince Naruhito could ascend the throne on a note of benevolence. In the Japanese public's view therefore, it made complete sense for the perpetrators of the Heisei Era's most shocking crime spree to go to the gallows before the era itself came to an end.
It hardly seems fair to single out the 65-year-old Kamikawa, who holds a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University, for giving the go-ahead for the executions. Asahara and six others were executed on July 6, and the remaining six on July 26.
The question now is what is going through the minds of the remaining adherents of the Aum cult's two main offshoots, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, who have, despite the criminal convictions of dozens of its members and periodic harassment by authorities, obstinately maintained their commitment to their respective cults. Will they lash out? And if so, who would they target?
The government apparently does feel the minister might be at risk and has taken steps to reduce any possible threat. A reporter who covers the Justice Ministry tells Flash (Aug 14) that Kamikawa will receive permanent (i.e., lifelong) protection from the "SP" (Security Police).
The SP, the closest thing Japan has to the Secret Service that protects America's president, was established in the 1960s following an assassination attempt on U.S. ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer.
"Protection will also extend to her entire family, including her parents, husband, daughter and grandchildren," added a source in the Liberal Democratic Party.
The SP didn't waste any time: The vicinity of Kamikawa's family home in Shizuoka City is said to have been placed under tight police guard from July 6. Two police vehicles can be seen parked behind the house, and a police guard is maintained on a 24-hour basis.
Does the minister actually warrant such protection? Flash notes that last March, sensing the executions were imminent, the Aleph web site ran this warning: "We wonder if the executions of guru Asahara and the others will take place soon. If that occurs, this will be intolerable as a drastic source of evil."
A spokesperson for Hikari no Wa told the magazine, "Once Aum was no longer under Asahara's leadership, no further attacks on people have occurred. In the Satyams (former Aum communes), it was not permitted to kill even one insect. Therefore, it's unthinkable that Aleph, as a group, would attack Kamikawa. Still, we suppose there might be individual adherents who harbor a deep grudge over their guru's execution."
Be that as it may, the 13 executions doesn't necessarily mean that troubles with Aum are over and done with, Flash warns. Meanwhile, Asahara's cremated remains are being stored in Kosuge Prison until the Matsumoto family members and their attorneys work out who will take possession.© Japan Today