Thursday, December 7, 2023

Japan seeks death penalty for arsonist responsible for fire that killed 36 people

Prosecutors in Japan are seeking the death penalty for the suspect in an arson attack in 2019 that killed 36 people in one of the country’s deadliest crimes for decades, reported The Guardian.

Shinji Aoba, who was not arrested until he had recovered from the burns he sustained in the attack on an animation studio in Kyoto, admitted in court in September 2023 to starting the fire.

However, lawyers for Aoba, who underwent a psychiatric evaluation before standing trial, entered a plea of not guilty, claiming a psychological disorder had rendered him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

He faces five charges, including murder, attempted murder and arson.

The deaths of dozens of people at the Kyoto Animation studio in July 2019 sent shock waves through Japan and prompted an outpouring of grief among fans of the company’s output.

The shock was compounded by the ages of the victims, many of whom were young employees, including a 21-year-old woman. Thirty-two of the studio’s 70 employees and others in the building were injured.

Aoba, 45, who is accused of breaking into the studio’s building and setting light to gasoline he had poured on the ground floor, apologised for the first time on Wednesday. “I feel tremendously sorry and the feeling includes a sense of guilt,” he told the court, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Aoba, who reportedly yelled at his victims to “die” as he started the fire, alleged that the studio had plagiarised his work – a claim prosecutors described as “delusional”.

The studio, commonly known as KyoAni, is known internationally for anime that include K-On! and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Aoba suffered more than 90% burns and had to undergo 12 operations, according to media reports. He reportedly wept after a successful procedure to restore his ability to speak.

Japan is one of several dozen countries that retain the death penalty, which it reserves for people found guilty of committing multiple murders or aggravated murder.

Although capital punishment has high levels of public support in Japan, authorities have been criticised for their treatment of condemned inmates, most of whom spend years in solitary confinement before being hanged.

The mother of one of the KyoAni victims, a 26-year-old woman, said she wanted her daughter back. “I wish I could go back to that day and die with her, and at least be by her side,” she told NHK.

The court is due to deliver its verdict on 25 January.

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