JAPAN: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL UK: MP says 'world's longest-serving' death row prisoner is scar on Japan's conscience

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9 Mar 2010
Region: JAPAN
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty
The Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael has spoken out over the plight of a prisoner on death row in Japan, dubbing the case of Hakamada Iwao “a tragedy and a scar on the conscience of Japan”.
Mr Hakamada, a former professional boxer sentenced to death in 1968, is believed by Amnesty International to be the world's longest-serving death row prisoner. In 1968 he was arrested and questioned for 20 days without a lawyer and later found guilty of murder based partly on confessions allegedly coerced from him by police interrogators.

Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, has taken up Hakamada’s case in his role as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and last year he visited Japan to lobby for his release. Tomorrow (Wednesday 10 March) Hakamada will be 74 and Mr Carmichael will accompany Amnesty delegates to the Japanese embassy in London to press for a retrial or full release of Hakamada.

There are longstanding doubts about the fairness of Hakamada’s trial and one of the original trial judges has himself said he firmly believes Hakamada is innocent. Meanwhile, Amnesty is stressing that conditions on death row in Japan are extremely harsh and, along with numerous other death row inmates, Hakamada now suffers from a mental illness, not least after spending 28 years in solitary confinement.

Alistair Carmichael said:

“No-one should be sentenced to death in this day and age and it’s mind-boggling to think that Hakamada Iwao has been on death row since the time of the Beatles or the first moon landing.

“It’s a personal tragedy for Mr Hakamada and a scar on the conscience of Japan.

“I campaigned for years on the Kenny Richey case so I’m well aware of just how appalling life on death row really is. But this case is in a category all of its own. It’s truly shocking.

“Just going to the Japanese embassy in London isn’t going to get Hakamada Iwao off death row overnight, but it’s part of a process to secure him a fair retrial or ensure he’s released.”

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Most people’s idea of Japan does not include the fact that the country even has the death penalty, still less the fact that a prisoner has been on death row there for over four decades.

“But the reality is actually worse still. Japan’s condemned prisoners are kept in inhuman conditions for decades and then taken out of their cells and hanged without warning.

“With Mr Hakamada about to become 74 we desperately need to see movement on his case. The unfairness of Hakamada’s original trial and mounting concerns about his mental illness must mean that the Japanese authorities either grant him a retrial or release him as soon as possible.”

Conditions on death row in Japan are extremely harsh. As Amnesty showed in a lengthy report last year, death row prisoners in Japan are largely confined to isolation cells. They are not allowed to move around in their cells, but must remain seated at all times. They are prohibited from talking to other inmates or even making eye contact with guards. Televisions are forbidden, visits are limited and often denied, and very little contact with the outside world is permitted. Amnesty’s research shows that numerous prisoners have been driven into mental illness, yet few safeguards exist to prevent them being executed.

Later this month Amnesty will publish a global survey on the use of the death penalty and this is expected to show that Japan is one of the world’s biggest users of the punishment. In 2008 the country put to death 15 prisoners.

09 March 2010

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