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Japan: Ex-PM Shinzo Abe assassin suspect formally indicted

January 13, 2023

Prosecutors have formally charged the suspected killer of ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The suspect was declared fit for trial after a six-month psychiatric evaluation.

People gather to mourn Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe near Nippon Budokan in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo
Abe was given a rare state funeral by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that was met with controversyImage: Pool/Yomiuri Shimbun/AP/picture alliance

Prosecutors in Japan have formally charged the 42-year-old suspect in the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a Japanese court said on Friday.

Following a six-month psychiatric evaluation, the suspect was indicted by the Nara District Public Prosecutors Office for both murder and violating gun laws.

The man was arrested directly after the shooting on July 8. He told police he had assassinated the former prime minister for his links to the South Korea-based Unification Church.

Abe's death triggered a public discussion about the church and its ties with Japan's dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

What do we know about Abe's assassination?

Abe was shot with a homemade gun while holding a rally near a train station in the western Japanese city of Nara last July.

After the killing of the former prime minister, leaders sent condolences from around the world. The incident also came as a shock to Japan where such acts of violence are rare, in part due to its strict gun laws.

Japan holds state funeral for Shinzo Abe

The suspect said he had targeted Abe after his mother was pressured to make donations of around 100 million yen ($774,700; €714,400) to the Unification Church — considered a cult in Japan — which left his family bankrupt.

Thousands of people have signed a petition asking for prosecutors to show leniency on the suspect, with many who have also suffered at the hands of the church expressing sympathy for his actions.

The Unification Church and the LDP

The Unification Church was founded in 1954 in South Korea but has many adherents in Japan, who make up one of the church's largest sources of income.

Abe's assassination has brought to light the LDP's longstanding relationship with the church, with the two sharing conservative and anti-communist ideals. The church was first courted by Abe's grandfather and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who also played a prominent role in Imperial Japan's war effort before and during World War II.

Many LDP lawmakers have connections with the church, but the party has denied any organizational link.

Abe funeral turns political for PM Kishida

Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has seen his approval rating plummet following the incident and controversial state funeral for Abe.

But he has also removed ministers from his cabinet who have links with the church.

Japan has also launched an investigation into the church's activities, with the option of revoking its legal status on the table.

ab/rs (AP, Reuters)