Shinzo Abe shooting: Tetsuya Yamagami charged with murder over assassination of Japan’s former PM

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Shinzo Abe was fatally shot with a homemade gun

Japanese prosecutors have formally charged the suspect in the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe with murder, a court said.

Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested immediately after Abe was shot with a homemade gun. The former leader was making a campaign speech in July outside a train station in Nara in western Japan.

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The suspect underwent a nearly six-month mental evaluation, which prosecutors said showed he is fit to stand trial. Yamagami was also charged with violating a gun control law, according to the Nara District Court.

Police have said Yamagami told them that he killed Abe, one of Japan’s most influential and divisive politicians, because of Abe’s apparent links to a religious group that he hated. In his statements and in social media postings attributed to him, Yamagami said he developed a grudge because his mother had made massive donations to the Unification Church that bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

Defence lawyers say Yamagami will take responsibility for the shooting

One of Yamagami’s 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 defence lawyers will do their best to reduce his sentence.

Japanese law allows capital punishment for murder, but experts say the death penalty is usually handed down for multiple killings and Yamagami could get life in prison if convicted.

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Tetsuya Yamagami has been charged with murder over assassination of Shinzo Abe. Picture: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty ImagesTetsuya Yamagami has been charged with murder over assassination of Shinzo Abe. Picture: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images
Tetsuya Yamagami has been charged with murder over assassination of Shinzo Abe. Picture: STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images | JIJI PRESS/AFP via Getty Images

Has a date been set for the trial?

No date is set for his trial, which is expected to have a panel of civil jurors in addition to the usual bench judges – as in murder cases and other serious criminal trials in Japan. Due to the complexity of the case, it would take months before his trial begins, Furukawa said.

Police are also reportedly considering adding several allegations, including producing weapons, violating explosives control law and causing damage to buildings.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Photo by Franck Robichon - Pool/Getty Images)Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Photo by Franck Robichon - Pool/Getty Images)
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Photo by Franck Robichon - Pool/Getty Images) | Franck Robichon - Pool/Getty Images

Thousands sign petition for leniancy

Some Japanese have expressed sympathy for Yamagami, especially those who also suffered as children of followers of the South Korea-based Unification Church, which is known for pressuring adherents into making big donations and is considered a cult in Japan. Thousands of people have signed a petition requesting leniency for Yamagami, and others have sent care packages to his relatives or the detention centre.

The investigation into the case has led to revelations of years of cosy ties between Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party and the church since Abe’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the church take root in Japan in the 1960s over shared interests in conservative and anti-communist causes.

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Japanese PM tries to distance himself from the church

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s popularity has plunged over his handling of the church controversy and for insisting on holding a rare, controversial state funeral for Abe. To remove ministers with church ties, Kishida shuffled his cabinet in August but a subsequent release of the party investigation in September showed church ties among nearly half of its 400 national legislators.

Kishida, who said he has no relations with the church, promised that his party legislators will cut ties with the group, and his government has begun an investigation that could possibly revoke the church’s religious status. The government also adopted a law designed to help victims of the church’s fundraising practices, though experts say the measure is insufficient.

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