Who wants to be a death row record breaker?
Okay, confession time - I’m a Guinness World Record holder. I was part of the world’s largest coconut orchestra in Trafalgar Square in 2007, and along with 5,566 other people, clip-clopped my way into the record books with a rendition of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.
The lengths some people will go to, to get into the hallowed book of records – cramming yourself into a 50cm box (in just 4.78 secs), walking over 22 metres of hot plates, and pogo-ing for a mile whilst juggling - is extreme. But I suspect no-one is angling to take this Guinness World Record on: the longest time served on death row.
That dubious honour now officially belongs to 77 year-old Hakamada Iwao, who was sent to death row on 11 September 1968 for the murder of 4 people in Japan. He’s served 44 years and counting, and has earned a place within the Guinness book.
Hakamada’s experience is something no one should have to go through. He’s always claimed his innocence, and says that his confession was beaten out of him. In April 2012, tests couldn’t find a DNA match that placed him at the scene of the murder.
44 years behind bars, fighting for a retrial to prove your innocence, would be too much for most people. But in Japan executions are carried out in secret, without warning. Sakae Menda, who was exonerated in 1983 after 35 years in prison, describes the daily terror of hearing prison officials approach the cell, not knowing whether they had come for him or someone else as feeling like his “whole body was being sucked through the floor”. Hakamada has lived for 44 years not knowing if today would be his last.
Not surprisingly, this has taken its toll. Hakamada’s mental state has been deteriorating for some time, and his lawyers say he’s no longer aware that he’s in prison. If this doesn’t highlight why we talk about the death penalty being the ultimate cruel, inhuman punishment, I’m not sure what will.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a request that Hakamada gets a retrial under review by the Shizoku District Court, and hundreds of you have been faxing and writing to the authorities asking for a stay of execution. Please add your name and post our letter to the authorities in Japan.
Just in case you need any further encouragement, watch this from pupils at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, highlighting 44 years of moments in world history that Hakamada Iwao has never experienced.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.