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Japan: Release of world's longest serving death row inmate after 46 years

© JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images

The Japanese courts have granted a retrial to a prisoner who has spent over four decades on death row almost all of it in solitary confinement, enduring treatment that the authorities should be ashamed of, Amnesty International said today. Amnesty is urging prosecutors to accept the court's decision.

Hakamada Iwao, 78, was sentenced to death in 1968 and is believed to be the longest-serving death row inmate in the world. After an unfair trial, he was convicted of the murder of his boss, his boss’s wife and their two children.

Shizuoka District Court granted his latest request for a retrial at a hearing earlier today.  He has now been released.

Prosecutors have four days to appeal the court’s decision.

Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International, said:

“The Japanese authorities should be ashamed of the barbaric treatment Hakamada has received.

“For more than 46 years he has lived under the constant fear of execution, never knowing from one day to the next if he is going to be put to death. This adds psychological torture to an already cruel and inhumane punishment.

“It would be most callous and unfair of prosecutors to appeal the court’s decision. Time is running out for Hakamada to receive the fair trial he was denied more than four decades ago.

 “If ever there was a case that merits a retrial, this is it.  Hakamada was convicted on the basis of a forced confession and there remain unanswered questions over recent DNA evidence.”

Hakamada “confessed” after 20 days of interrogation by police. He retracted the confession during the trial and told the court that police had beaten and threatened him.

According to his lawyers, recent forensic tests show no match between Hakamada’s DNA and samples taken from clothing the prosecution alleges was worn by the murderer.   

One of the three judges who convicted Hakamada has publicly stated he believes him to be innocent.   

Like most prisoners facing execution, Hakamada has mainly been held in solitary confinement. His mental health has deteriorated as a result of the decades he has spent in isolation.

The news comes on the day that Amnesty published its global death penalty report, which showed a 'Sharp spike' in global executions last year.


The Japanese justice system continues to rely heavily on confessions often obtained through torture or other ill-treatment. There are no clear limits on the length of interrogations which lawyers are not permitted to attend.

Amnesty International has documented the routine use of beatings, intimidation, sleep deprivation and forcing detainees to stand or sit in a fixed position for long periods during interrogations.

The organisation has repeatedly called for reforms of Japan’s justice system in line with international standards.

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