A JAPANESE court has ordered the release of the world's longest-serving death row inmate, saying investigators had probably made up evidence in a murder case that left him behind bars for nearly half a century.

Shizuoka District Court suspended the death sentence for 78-year-old Iwao Hakamada, a former professional boxer convicted of the 1966 murder of a family, and ordered a retrial.

More than 45 of the 48 years Hakamada has spent in jail have been on death row, making him the longest-serving such inmate, according to Guinness World Records.

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Hakamada was sentenced to death in 1968 but was not executed because of a lengthy appeals process. It took 27 years for the supreme court to deny his first appeal for a retrial. He filed a second appeal in 2008, and the court finally ruled in his favour.

The court said DNA analysis obtained by Hakamada's lawyers suggested investigators had fabricated evidence. It ordered a retrial, making Hakamada only the sixth death row inmate to get a retrial in post-war Japan.