5 December 2023
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TOKYO: A pre-trial hearing for the man accused of killing Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe was cancelled Monday after a suspicious object was delivered to the court, local media said.

Nara District Court could not immediately confirm the reports by outlets including public broadcaster NHK, with TV footage showing people gathered outside the evacuated building in western Japan.

The suspicious item was reportedly a roughly square-shaped cardboard box about 33 centimetres (13 inches) long, sealed with adhesive tape, which set off a metal detector.

Tetsuya Yamagami had been due to appear on Monday afternoon for a hearing over Abe’s broad-daylight assassination that shocked the world in July last year.

The 42-year-old faces charges of murder and violation of arms control laws and could face the death penalty if convicted.

He reportedly targeted Abe — Japan’s best-known politician and longest-serving prime minister — over his ties to the Unification Church, the global sect whose members are sometimes referred to as “Moonies”.

Yamagami is believed to have resented the church over large donations his mother made that bankrupted his family.

Shinzo Abe was shot with an apparently homemade gun while speaking at a campaign event in Nara on July 8.

The circumstances of the assassination have ignited scrutiny of what authorities admitted were security shortcomings and led to the resignation of Japan’s police chief.

Before the cancelled hearing, Yamagami underwent a psychiatric assessment which ended in January.

He had spent three years in the navy following a childhood reportedly marred by his father’s suicide and his mother’s alleged neglect and devotion to church activities.

Details of his upbringing have stoked anger in Japan against the Unification Church and garnered Yamagami sympathy, with supporters showing support for him through donations and a petition calling for leniency.

The Unification Church was founded in Korea in the 1950s by self-styled messiah Sun Myung Moon.

In a letter published by Japanese media, Yamagami accused Shinzo Abe of supporting the sect and expressed resentment towards the group.

The church has confirmed his mother’s membership but refused to specify the amount of donations she made, which reports said may have totalled around 100 million yen ($700,000).

Less than a year after Shinzo Abe’s death, in April, a man hurled an explosive device towards Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shortly before he was due to deliver a campaign speech in the city of Wakayama.

The leader escaped unharmed, but the fact that an assailant was able to throw the device at such close range prompted renewed criticism of security arrangements in Japan.

Abdul Gh Lone