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After four decades on Japan's death row, Okunishi should be retried, not hanged

Okunishi Masaru is Japan’s longest serving death row inmate.

This week marks 43 years since Japan's Supreme Court confirmed Okunishi's death sentence, two years after he was sent to death row. Okunishi has spent over half his life there, knowing that he could be executed at any time.

Yet the trial that saw Okunishi sentenced to death was seriously flawed. His lawyers have made repeated attempts to have him granted a retrial, so far without success.

Ask for a retrial

Sign the petition for Okunishi's retrial on Amnesty Japan’s website

The website is in Japanese, but there is an English option for the petition.

The backstory

Refused a lawyer, no evidence to back up charges against him

Okunishi Masaru had taken bottles of wine to a meeting at a community centre in his home town, Minanokai, on 28 March 1961. The elected head of the town had given him the wine to take to the meeting. The wine turned out to be laced with pesticide, which killed five women, and made 12 other people sick.

The next day Okunishi was brought by police to the police station and was interrogated daily over the next five days. While being interrogated Okunishi was not granted any legal representation. At the end of this he confessed, and was put under arrest and charged with the murder of the five women.

He "confessed" to the crime after being interrogated by police over several days. He retracted his confession during his first trial, and was acquitted for lack of evidence. However, this verdict was reversed by a higher court, which sentenced him to death. The Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence on 15 June 1972.

Facing execution every day for 43 years

Executions in Japan are by hanging, and are typically carried out in secret. Death row inmates are only notified on the morning of their execution, and their families are typically informed only after the execution has taken place. The Ministry of Justice claims this protects the families of prisoners from shame and reduces the mental strain on inmates. It means, however, that prisoners live with the constant fear of execution. A fear Okunishi has lived with for almost half of his life.

Typically, prisoners awaiting execution are held in solitary confinement. Interaction with other inmates is restricted and contact with the outside world is limited to infrequent and supervised visits from family or lawyers. Apart from using the toilet and two or three short exercise sessions (usually about 30 minutes) per week, prisoners are not allowed to move around their cells but must remain seated.

Call on Japan's Supreme Court to grant Okunishi a retrial, via Amnesty Japan

Share the petition on Twitter and Facebook

Facebook - suggested post:

Okunishi Masaru has spent 45 years on death row after a flawed trial. Call on the Japanese authorities to grant him a retrial and help clear his name

Twitter - suggested tweet:

45 years on #Japan death row after 'forced confession'. Demand a retrial for Okunishi

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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.
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