Retrial for Japanese man on death row for 46 years

Hakamada iwaoIt is difficult to credit that a man has been on death row in Japan for a total of 46 years.  Some people reading this may not have been born when he was incarcerated.  Hakamada Iwao is to be retried because the key evidence against him – blood stained clothing – has been tested and the DNA is not his.  UPDATE: it looks as though Hakamada has been released (28 March).

The Salisbury group has been campaigning for Iwao to be released and many people have signed our petitions outside the Library and at other events.  Taken with the release of Ashtiana in Iran (see earlier post) this demonstrates that campaigning can make a difference.

The situation in Japan for people on death row is not at all civilised and come as a surprise for a country that gives every impression of being a modern democracy.  The prisoner does not know from one day to the next when they are to be hanged.  The average time on death row is 7 years and 11 months.  Conditions on death row are, according to Amnesty ‘a harsh regime of solitary confinement in toilet sized cells.’  Exercise is only allowed twice a week and three times in summer.

Japan secures convictions after long hours of interrogation with no lawyers present and with physical mistreatment regularly used.  Secrecy surrounds the process and until recently, no announcement was made of an execution having taken place, only an annual figure issued.  There is little protest made within Japan about the treatment of prisoners or of the whole process which is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Human Rights.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all cases.  Once again, an unsatisfactory legal process and fresh evidence, reveals the risk that an innocent man would by now be dead.


Sakineh released. Iran

News this week that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was convicted of adultery and complicity in the murder of her

Portrait of Sakineh prepared by local support Paul Donavan
Portrait of Sakineh prepared by local artist Paul Donovan

husband and sentenced to death by stoning in 2006, is to be given ‘a leave’ from prison by the Iranian authorities.  The story was reported in the Guardian (20 March).

Readers of this site will know that the Amnesty group in Salisbury has campaigned on many occasions over the last several years on behalf of Sakineh.  It was part of a worldwide campaign.  We have sent cards to her prison, asked people to sign petitions and group members have written to the powers that be in Iran asking for her release.  Many hundreds of Salisbury people signed our petitions.  We – and the people of Salisbury who signed cards and petitions – can therefore claim to have played a small part in the successful outcome of this case.

The case caused a storm of outrage when it became national news.  For many, it was the first time that the full horror of what stoning actually involves was brought home to them.  Indeed, the group had to explain to many people what in fact it involved.  Men are buried up to their necks and women up to the waist.  Stones are delivered to the site which are neither too small nor so large that they would kill in one go.  This in a country that wants to be in the nuclear age.

Cube designed to illustrate the approximate size of stones used in stoning
Cube designed to illustrate the approximate size of stones used in stoning

Sakineh was world wide news but the scale of executions by a variety of means is at an astonishing level in Iran.  It is second only to China in the number carried out.  They are on course for nearly a thousand this year dispelling the optimism surrounding Rouhani’s election last year.

Nevertheless, it does show that concerted international pressure can and does have the occasional beneficial effect even on the most isolated regimes.


There was rejoicing when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from detention at her house in November 2010.  It seemed at last that the political situation in Burma would improve and human rights and political normality would be established.  The IDC report Development and Democracy in Burma’  showed that improvements have indeed taken place.  Around 1000 political prisoners have been released; censorship has been reduced and trades unions have been formed.

This has led to a removal of controls put in place during the time of the general’s junta and trade links are being 3925established.  There has been a visit by Hilary Clinton and other politicians to the country.  There is a sense that things have improved and we can now relax as far as human rights are concerned.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a little way from the truth and that there are still serious things going on in the country.  Every quarter, the Foreign and Colonial Office publishes reports on ‘countries of concern’ and one such was for Burma in December last year.  According to the Burma Campaign UK, the FCO is seriously underplaying the human rights in Burma in its effort to promote the country for trade and investment.  One can see the attraction: Burma has the potential to be one of the richest countries in SE Asia with huge natural resources including the world’s largest source of teak and substantial oil resources.  The Chinese are of course interested and will have no interest in the human rights issues, hence a desire to see UK businesses getting their foot in the door.

Specifically, Burma Campaign say that the FCO report;

  • Falsely claims that Thein Sein ordered the release of all prisoners and persons facing trial for political activity
  • Fails to mention the human rights abuses against the Rohingya which have dramatically increased with violent attacks forcing 140 000 Rohingya people to flee.  Villages have been destroyed and women and children hacked to death
  • does not mention the arrests of thousands of political activists.

Médecins san Frontières were forced to stop work in another troubled state Rahhine because of threats and violence.

A picture is created of the EU and the FCO keen to promote trade in preference to human rights and even decline to mention ‘Rohingya’ for fear of upsetting the government there.

This seems to follow the pattern of several countries in recent times.  First there is concern expressed, sanctions are talked about and even imposed.  Then something happens in the country and normality of a kind is established.  There is a desire to establish contact and get things back to normal.  Then the country is forgotten and disappears off the news pages and political agendas.

There is nothing wrong in establishing trade with countries like Burma and there is an argument that trade can do a lot to promote better understanding between nations.  But Burma had to change its ways because it became more and more concerned that almost the only country willing to trade with them with no questions asked was China.  It needed to get the support of the West for its technology and to reduce its dependence on one country.  So the West still has leverage.

Campaigns against minorities are still being carried on and as far as the ethnic communities are concerned, it’s still business as usual.  Let us not forget Burma.

For further information go to


Readers of this blog and its predecessor, will recall that we have had many occasions to feature the situation in Iran, the3925 worlds second biggest executioner of its citizens.  Statistics are hard to come by and those issued by Iran itself are an underestimate.  Recent figures reveal 165 known executions in the first 2 months of 2014 which equates to just short of 1000 for the year if it carries on (Source: Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre, IHRDC).   Not only is the level of execution high but they are carried out in public, sometimes with a number of people being hanged at the same time.

We have campaigned against this in the past and in particular, the particularly nasty practice of stoning people to death.  The three methods of execution used in Iran are hanging – the most common – throwing people off cliffs, and stoning.  Children are executed as well, despite denials, and they are kept until their eighteenth birthday before the deed is done.

When Rouhani came to power, there was a wave of optimism in the West and with it a feeling that some kind of normalised relationship could be established with Iran.  An example is a BBC report of 11 November last year which quoted Jack Straw as saying ‘Rouhani was courteous, engaging, very straightforward, with a nice smile playing on his lips’.  There was hope that at last there was a moderate politician in Iran and progress could be made to have dealings with that country in a sensible way.

It is in this spirit of hope that an article in the New York Times this week under the headline ‘Mercy and Web Slow the Number of Executions in Iran’ by Thomas Erdbrink might provide some good news.  He spoke of a ‘growing distaste’ within Iran for capital punishment and he put this down in part to the spread of social media.  ‘The increasing number of executions has made the middle class upset’ a lawyer is quoted as saying.  The story was built around someone who managed to raise the funds necessary to pay the victim’s family enough to secure his release.

However, a search on the net reveals that the story is somewhat distorted and that if anything, the rate of executions is increasing under Mr Rouhani rather than diminishing.  A full report of the situation in Iran is published by the International Federation of Human Rights, Fidh and can be accessed at:  Please be warned there are some disturbing images.

It was hoped to post something positive about the country but the facts seem to point to the reality of life in Iran is much as it always was.

The group campaigns against the death penalty and if you wish to join us see the ‘Joining’ tab at the top of this site.

Death penalty update

Each month, the group receives an update on the death penalty which can be accessed below.  A lot focuses on the USA3925 which still provides some grim news although there is good news that Glenn Ford was released after 30 years on death row.  In fairness however, although a large number of people are executed in the USA, they are some way behind China and Iran in terms of the numbers who are executed sometimes after brief trials and the use of torture to extract confessions.  How many are executed in China is a state secret.

Death penalty summary March

Meeting report

The group met yesterday for its regular monthly meeting and the following items were discussed:      3925

  • It was sad to record the death recently of group member Ursula Milner-White who has been a stalwart supporter almost from the start of the local group.  The group expressed its sympathies to the family and its thanks for the support Ursula gave to us over many years.  She was a regular at stall signings and rarely missed a meeting
  • Lesley reported on the workshop which was held at the last meeting and tabled the activity chart.  There were a number of actions some of which were discussed during the meeting
  • Death penalty report.  See separate blog on this
  • Vigil.  There is to be a vigil at St Thomas’s and the date has changed.  Jonathan is to advise of the new date and time.
  • North Korea.  Karen gave a brief update on the UN Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Human Rights in the People’s Republic of North Korea which documented the appalling situation in that country.  It is Kim Jung Un’s birthday on 15 April and we are planning an event on that day to highlight the situation there
  • John Glen MP.  An invitation sent last month to Mr Glen to come and discuss his desire to see the Human Rights Act abolished has not so far received a response.  A reminder will be sent
  • Conference.  Peter presented the initial plan for the human rights Magna Carta event being planned for September or October 2015.  The idea is to link the 800th anniversary to human rights today.  Partners and speakers and sponsors are now being sought.  More details in future postings
  • Web site.  Members will notice we have a new dedicated web site now and the address is in the url field.  We may pay a small sum to have the word ‘wordpress’ dropped.  The new site is a great improvement on the Amnesty hosted one which has limited functionality and was difficult to use.  Members are asked to include the link at the bottom of emails and on other material to help promote the site.  It will be possible for more people to contribute items to the site if they wish
  • Venue.  There was a discussion about the venue of future meetings and the results of these discussions will be posted here soon.  Thanks to Fiona for hosting this meeting
  • DoNM.  10 April at a venue to be notified.

Minutes will be posted here once they are received.

Death row man released

When we run campaigns to end the use of the death penalty, we get a variety of responses.  Many people walk by not wanting to be involved.  Some will come and readily sign the petition.  A few will shout at us or say that they agree with the death penalty and want to see it reintroduced into the UK.

Glenn Ford at his release.  Picture: AP

Quite apart from the moral case against the practice, the major problem is that mistakes cannot be undone.  Once someone is executed, discovering that they were innocent is not a lot of use.  Evidence of this is the recent release of Glenn Ford in Louisiana, USA, after having served 30 years in the notorious Angola Prison.

The case has all the familiar hallmarks of other people released in these circumstances.  Firstly he was black and that is still a problem in the southern states.  Secondly, the prosecution ensures that there is an all-white jury.  Thirdly, the defence council is inexperienced and in this case, he was a corporate lawyer and it was his first time in front of a jury.  Add in dodgy expert testimony and a man now known to be innocent spends 30 years of his life in gaol waiting to be executed.  It now appears the key witness lied and she has admitted that and the Shreveport Times – Shreveport is where the murder was committed – reports that key evidence that would have exonerated him was withheld.   This or other evidence, was discovered by a Sherriff’s investigator and led to his release.

Glenn goes adds to the list of 144 other people released from death row since 1973.  Of course we cannot read across to this country the circumstances of the south in the USA.  Even so, this should give pause for thought to those keen on a reintroduction of the penalty to this country.  Recent revelations about the activities of the Metropolitan Police show that ensuring a scrupulously fair trial cannot be relied upon.

Amnesty is opposed to the use of the death penalty in all cases.


The current newsletter is available either in hard copy form at St Thomas’ church in Salisbury or alternatively, you can3925 send a blog to this site with your address and one will be posted to you.  You can open a pdf version below.

The newsletter is published quarterly and contributions, comments or letters are always welcome.  If you make a comment here please say if you are happy for it to be used in the next newsletter.  The next issue is in May.

February newsletter

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