Suspect in former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s murder charged more than six months later

Tokyo — Japanese prosecutors have formally charged the suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with murder and sent him to trial, a court said Friday.

Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested immediately after the alleged shooting Abe with a homemade gun when the former leader delivered a campaign speech on July 8 outside a train station in Nara, western Japan. Afterward, Yamagami underwent a nearly six-month psychiatric evaluation, which prosecutors found fit to stand trial.

Yamagami was also charged with violating the Arms Control Act, according to the Nara District Court.

Tetsuya Yamagami (below) is detained near the scene of a shooting in Nara Prefecture, western Japan, July 8, 2022. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a divisive advocate and one of the most powerful and influential figures in his country, died after being shot during a campaign speech, hospital officials said.

Katsuhiko Hirano / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP

Police said Yamagami told them he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most powerful and controversial politicians, because of Abe’s apparent ties to a religious group he hated. In his statements and social media posts attributed to him, Yamagami said he harbored resentment because his mother made huge donations to the Unification Church, which bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

One of his lawyers, Masaaki Furukawa, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Yamagami will have to take responsibility for the serious consequences of his alleged actions and that his lawyers will do everything they can to get his sentence commuted.

Japanese law allows the death penalty for murder, but experts say the death penalty is usually imposed for multiple murders, and Yamagami could face life in prison if convicted.

A date has not been set for his trial, which is expected to have a civilian jury in addition to regular judges – as in murder cases and other serious criminal trials in Japan. Furukawa said that due to the complexity of the case, it would take months for the trial to begin.

Former Japan’s Shinzo Abe stands as his party’s candidate for the House of Councilors election outside Yamato Saidadi Station in Nara Prefecture on July 8, 2022, seconds before he was shot dead.

Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

Police are also reportedly considering adding several charges, including manufacturing weapons, breaching explosives control laws and causing damage to buildings.

Some Japanese expressed sympathy for Yamagami, especially those who also suffered as children of followers of the South Korean Unification Churchwhich is known for getting fans to make large donations and is considered a cult in Japan.

Thousands of people signed a petition asking for Yamagami’s clemency, while others sent aid packages to his relatives or to his prison.

The investigation has revealed years of good relations between Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church since Abe’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church gain a foothold in Japan in the 1960s because of shared conservative interests. and anti-communist causes.

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has plummeted because of his ecclesiastical controversies and his insistence on holding a rare, Abe’s controversial state funeral.

To remove church-linked ministers, Kishida reshuffled his cabinet in August, but the next version of a party survey in September found that nearly half of the nation’s 400 lawmakers had church ties.

Kishida, who has said he has no relationship with the church, has vowed that lawmakers from his party will cut ties with the group and his government has launched an investigation that could strip the church of its religious status.

The government has also passed a law aimed at helping victims of church fundraising, but experts say the measure is not enough.

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