Notice to Media: First Pre-Trial Hearing of "Tokyo Two" Greenpeace Activists Heard In Japan

Press release - 13 February, 2009
The first formal court hearing in preparation for the trial of two Greenpeace activists took place in Aomori, Japan today.

Greenpeace Japan whale campaign coordinator Junichi Sato, with whale meat that was stolen from Japanese taxpayers, and which he provided as evidence to the government -- only to be arrested and charged for doing so.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki are being prosecuted, and risk up to ten years in jail if convicted, after they exposed a major corruption scandal surrounding the Japanese government-sponsored whaling programme. They had reported their findings with the intention of raising awareness about the abuse of taxpayer subsidies, and in order to prompt an independent investigation into the programme [1].

Following the hearing - which was closed to media and the public - lawyers acting on behalf of the two men outlined the intended defence. Sato and Suzuki are jointly charged with theft and trespass.

"Neither activist had any intent of illegal acquisition, which is one of the elements of the crime of "theft" as defined by Japanese domestic law", according to lead counsel for the defendants, Yuichi Kaido.

Kaido added, "Moreover, from the perspective of international law, Junichi and Toru's acts were an exercise of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [2]. International courts have stressed that respect for freedom of expression is essential, if news and non-governmental organisations are to play their role as public watchdogs in a democracy. Even if the defendants' acts met the definition of a criminal offence under Japanese law, the law should not be applied in this instance, as a conviction would breach Japan's obligations under the ICCPR."

A second pre-trial hearing [3] for the two activists is set for 23 March, while the date of commencement of the public trial has not yet been decided.

Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

Other contacts: Rose Young, Greenpeace International, in Japan, +81 80 1618 8515Dave Walsh, Greenpeace International Communications, in Ireland, +353 87 220702

Notes: 1. An investigation begun by Sato and Suzuki in April 2008 focused on organised whale meat embezzlement conducted by whaling fleet crew from Japan's so-called "scientific" whaling programme, which is funded by Japanese taxpayers. Following information from an informer who had previously been involved in the whaling programme, Sato and Suzuki discovered firm evidence that cardboard boxes containing whale meat were being secretly shipped to the homes of whaling fleet crew - and then sold for personal profit. Junichi Sato delivered a box of this whale meat to the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office in May 2008, and filed a report of embezzlement. However, the embezzlement investigation was dropped on 20 June - the same day that both men were arrested and then held for 26 days before being charged with theft and trespass.More: investigation: Japan's stolen whale meat scandal, May 15 2008 - dossier available from: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Japan in 1979, has the force of law in Japan's legal system, and prevails over inconsistent domestic laws. In Article 19, the ICCPR recognises that freedom of expression not only includes the freedom to "impart" information, but also freedom "for everyone" to "seek" and "receive" it. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that NGOs should enjoy the same high level of protection of free speech as the media, in view of the "strong public interest in enabling such groups and individuals … to contribute to the public debate by disseminating information and ideas on matters of general public interest such as … the environment". The ECtHR also stressed that although investigative journalists should normally obey the criminal law, any trial should take account of "the interest a democratic society has in ensuring and preserving freedom of the press" and should be strictly proportionate.The ECtHR's jurisprudence is seen as very authoritative internationally. The Court rules on alleged violations of human rights by the 47 European countries which have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a treaty adopted in 1950, which guarantees freedom of expression in Article 10(1). The ICCPR, adopted in 1966, was largely inspired by the ECHR and contains an almost identical definition of freedom of expression in Article 19(2).3. "Pre-trial arrangement" is a procedure which has been adopted in Japan, in view of the future introduction of a jury system, which attempts to shorten the duration of court procedures.