Man freed after 45 years on death row in Japan could go back to jail

Tokyo High Court rules against 2014 decision that conviction of Iwao Hakamada was unsafe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 1:12pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 9:17pm

A Japanese man who was freed in 2014 after spending 45 years on death row could be sent back to prison after a court overturned the decision to grant him a retrial.

Iwao Hakamada was sentenced to hang in 1968 for the murders two years earlier of a company president, his wife and their two children in Shizuoka prefecture, central Japan.

A District Court in Shizuoka freed him in 2014 and ordered a retrial, saying police may have fabricated evidence, but the Tokyo High Court on Monday ruled against it.

It said the lower court had overstated the value of DNA evidence that cast doubt on the safety of his conviction, and that there were insufficient grounds to suspect that police had forged evidence.

Hakamada, an 82-year-old former professional boxer, told reporters from his home in Shizuoka that his conviction had always been unsafe. “It is all lies,” he said, according to Kyodo news.

His 85-year-old sister, Hideko, who has campaigned to prove her brother’s innocence, said the High Court ruling was “regrettable,” but added that his supporters would continue the fight to clear his name.

Hakamada’s lawyers were expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Tokyo court agreed to allow Hakamada, who is in poor health, to remain free on humanitarian grounds until a final decision has been made on his retrial.

A live-in employee at the victims’ miso paste plant, he had initially confessed to the four killings but later retracted it and insisted he was innocent throughout his two-year trial. Hakamada told the court that police had beaten and threatened him during 20 consecutive days of questioning.

At the time of his 2014 release, he was thought to be the world’s longest-serving death row inmate.

Hakamada’s family had pleaded with prosecutors not to challenge the lower court decision, saying decades on death row had seriously damaged his mental and physical health.

Hiroka Shoji, east Asia researcher at Amnesty International, described Monday’s ruling as a gross injustice.

“Hakamada’s conviction is based on a forced ‘confession’ and there remain serious unanswered questions over DNA evidence,” Shoji said.

“Time is running out for Hakamada to receive the fair trial he was denied 50 years ago. Any appeal by Hakamada’s legal team should be heard without undue delay. He is elderly and has poor mental health because of his many years on death row.

“To send Hakamada back to prison would not only set the Japanese authorities against international safeguards protecting those with mental disability and the elderly from the use of the death penalty, but would be plain cruel.”

Campaigners against the death penalty have used Hakamada’s case to draw attention to Japan’s “ secret executions ”, accusing authorities of driving prisoners insane and subjecting them to “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.