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Japan releases longest-serving death-row inmate after 47 years

    June 05, 2014

    Every morning for almost 47 years, Iwao Hakamada woke up in a Japanese jail cell and faced the possibility that he might be taken to the gallows to be hanged. As the years passed he became known as the world’s longestserving
    death-row inmate.

    Then, after almost half a century, a court reviewed the evidence used to convict Hakamada. On March 27, the court ordered his immediate release and retrial (although prosecutors are prolonging the torment by appealing the retrial). Hours later, the frail-looking 78-year-old walked out of the Tokyo Detention Centre beside his sister Hideko who had fought relentlessly for his freedom. 

    Hakamada had been convicted of the 1966 murder of a family of four, but his conviction was seriously flawed. Hakamada said the police beat him and threatened him during a 20-day interrogation until he signed a confession—a confession he later retracted. Recent DNA testing of bloodstained evidence showed the blood did not match Hakamada’s. Even one of the three original trial judges, Norimichi Kumamoto, said that he always believed Hakamada was innocent but that the other judges outvoted him. 

    Hideko Hakamada, sister of Iwao Hakamada, campaigned on her brother's behalf for decades. (c)Kazuhiro/AFP/Getty Images 

    The decision haunted the judge, who resigned six months after the trial. “I felt extremely guilty that I had to sentence an innocent man—I still do, to this day,” he said.

    Amnesty highlighted Hakamada’s case in reports that exposed serious flaws in Japan’s criminal justice system. And his case was also featured in Amnesty’s annual Write for Rights global letter-writing marathons. 

    Thank you! You stood alongside Iwao Hakamada's family in their struggle for justice.