Unjust Conviction of Anti-Whaling Activists Upheld by a Sendai Court: Greenpeace

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sendai- Japan (PanOrient News) Greenpeace today condemned "Japan’s ongoing disregard for international human rights law," following the Sendai High Court’s decision to uphold convictions handed down to anti-whaling activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki. The decision comes in spite of an official admission of wrongdoing by the Fisheries Agency of Japan in December 2010, and strong evidence supporting the activists’ allegations of criminal embezzlement, Greenpeace said in a press release.

Known as the Tokyo Two, Sato and Suzuki were convicted of “theft and “trespass” by the Aomori District Court in September 2010, after they exposed broad scale embezzlement in Japan’s whaling industry, The court rejected all of the arguments presented by the defence, upheld the unjust convictions handed down by the Aomori court, and gave no clear reasoning for its decision.

The press release noted that in January 2008, Greenpeace began an investigation into insider allegations that organised whale meat embezzlement was being conducted by crew inside Japan's so-called ’scientific‘ whaling programme, which is funded by Japanese taxpayers. The informer was previously involved in the whaling programme, and as a result of his information, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki began an investigation, eventually discovering firm proof that cardboard boxes containing whale meat were being
secretly shipped to the homes of whaling fleet crew - and then sold for personal profit. A box of this whale meat was intercepted at a mail depot and delivered to the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office in May 2008, where Sato filed a report of embezzlement. However, the embezzlement investigation was dropped on 20 June, and on the same day both men were arrested and then held for 26 days, 23 of which were without charge. The Tokyo Two, as Sato and Suzuki are now known, were convicted of theft and trespass on September 6, 2010, and sentenced to one year in prison, suspended for three years.

On December 22, 2010, the Fisheries Agency of Japan announced that it was reprimanding five of its officials, and giving formal warnings to two senior officials, for accepting whale meat gifts from the industry – further confirming Sato and Suzuki’s accusations of broad-scale corruption. They are now appealing the court’s decision.

The case of Sato and Suzuki has generated significant international attention, from senior political figures, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, international human rights groups and legal experts. During a visit to Japan last year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern about the case particularly with regard to freedom of expression and association. She emphasised the importance of investigations by NGOs to society in general and how their work should be respected.

“The court did not acknowledge that the substantial evidence showing the occurrence of embezzlement, and it did not take the right to investigate and criticise such practices into proper consideration,” said Junichi Sato, defendant and Greenpeace Japan Executive Director. “Above all, the court did not take into account the damning admission by the Fisheries Agency of Japan, and its apology for its officials’ acceptance of expensive, illegal whale meat gifts from the fleet operators – in quantities far greater than we were convicted of taking.”

In December 2010 when officials from the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) apologised for the misconduct of five officials who accepted gifts of whale meat totalling approximately US$3,000 – recognising the improprieties Sato and Suzuki sought to expose existed. A further two key officials - including the FAJ’s second in command and prominent IWC negotiator, Jun Yamashita - were handed warnings, as they were ultimately responsible for the actions of their staff.

The box of embezzled meat Sato and Suzuki intercepted was worth $550 according to prosecutors – far less than what industry officials have now admitted to taking, and according to evidence and witness testimony from the Tokyo Two trial, what has been admitted is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“We have proven our case and the FAJ has admitted wrongdoing, yet we are still being punished for standing up to corruption, while those behind the real crime walk free,” said Sato. “For too long bureaucrats have had very cosy relationships with destructive industries, and as we have seen with the IWC vote buying scandals and TEPCO’s single-page nuclear meltdown response plan for Fukushima Daiichi, both have had severely negative effects on the environment, the people and the economy.”

“The Government can no longer ignore the embezzlement we exposed. It must fully investigate the whale meat scandal, finally end its support for the expensive, unwanted and unneeded whaling programme, and put the money wasted on it into recovering from the March 11 disaster, and rebuilding sustainable fishing communities along the East coast.”

Japan maintains that the research take of whales is not a violation or an abuse of a loophole in the international convention. Quite the contrary, this is a legitimate right of the contracting party under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW).

Japan's Foreign Ministry explained that whale meat is indeed sold in the market, but this is a requirement set forth by Article VIII of the ICRW. Also, the sale of whale meat does not create any profit in Japan's case. A non-profit research institute, which carries out this research program, sells the by-product in order to cover a portion of its research costs.

Photo: Greenpeace poster "Whaling on Trial"

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