Activists who exposed sale of whale meat convicted

 

TWO GREENPEACE campaigners who tried to expose what they say is large-scale corruption in Japan’s controversial whaling programme have been convicted of trespass and theft.

Junichiro Sato (33) and Toru Suzuki (43) called their one-year jail terms, suspended for three years, “disproportionate and unjust” after they were announced yesterday in Aomori, northern Japan.

“I’m so disappointed in this verdict,” said Mr Sato. “It is saying that Japanese people don’t have the right to expose corruption, which is guaranteed under international law”

Mr Sato and Mr Suzuki were arrested in 2008 after they took a 23kg box of whale meat from a warehouse – one of 47 allegedly sent by crew aboard Japan’s whaling ship the Nisshin Maru – to private addresses across the country.

According to Greenpeace, whalers aboard the ship have long had the right to choice cuts – worth hundreds of euros – from the government-subsidised “scientific whaling” catch, which they sell on the black market.

Greenpeace took these allegations to journalists before handing the meat over to the police in May 2008 and demanding an investigation. The authorities ignored the claims and instead launched a ferocious campaign against the two men that culminated in their arrest and detention without lawyers for 26 days.

During their lengthy trial, the men admitted that they took the whale-meat, arguing that it was in the public interest. The three judges however ruled that while there were “questionable” activities aboard the Nisshin Maru, that did not justify breaking the law.

The verdict follows the deportation in July of New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune, a member of the direct action environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Mr Bethune was sentenced to two years, suspended for five, for assaulting a Japanese whaler during violent clashes in the southern oceans.

Another anti-whaling campaigner, Ric O’Barry, has been warned to stay away from Taiji village, scene of a bloody annual dolphin hunt in southern Japan, which began this month.

Mr O’Barry said in Tokyo yesterday that he would obey the law, adding that activists would step up activities against whaling ahead of a November visit to Japan by US president Barack Obama.

“I don’t want to provoke violence, we always work with the authorities when we’re here,” said Mr O’Barry, who arrived in Tokyo last week with a petition of 1.7 million signatures demanding the dolphin cull be stopped. “These hunts will only end when Japanese people get involved in this issue.”

A source with Japan’s Fisheries Agency, which controls whaling policy in the country, welcomed yesterday’s verdict. “The two Greenpeace activists broke the law so they deserved their sentence,” said the official, speaking anonymously. “They have not shown any remorse during their testimony.”

Yomiuri newspaper reported yesterday that whale meat was making a comeback in school lunches. Of about 30,000 schools that serve school lunches, 5,355 say they served whale meat at least once in the year to March 2010.