Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were today convicted of theft and trespass after carrying out a public interest investigation into whale meat embezzlement in Japan, during which they intercepted evidence of whale meat being smuggled off a whaling ship for private use.
Responding to the verdict Sato said, "While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognise the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defence was based, supersedes domestic criminal law, but the judgement did not properly take this into account."
"This sentence is totally disproportionate and completely undeserved," said Suzuki. "We set out to reveal the truth about the government's whaling programme, but instead have been punished, while those behind the misuse of public money walk free."
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the detention of Sato and Suzuki a breach of their human rights, and considered the subsequent trial to be politically motivated.
Commenting on the case, associate lecturer at University of Newcastle Law School, Amy Maguire said: "Arguably, the Tokyo Two's actions ought to be excused by a court. The Tokyo Two were exercising their fundamental and universal human right of freedom of expression, in a manner which was very much within the public interest."
International law expert and defence witness in the case, Professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University, Belgium, stated: "The Tokyo Two's treatment was already a violation of international human rights law. While a suspended sentence is preferable to a jail term, it still constitutes a further failure to respect the rights of two activists who should never have been arrested and charged in the first place. It also discourages other organisations and journalists from investigating and reporting misconduct by the authorities."
"Activists are not criminals, and to treat them as such has a chilling effect in society, undermining the quality of democracy," Greenpeace International Executive Director Dr. Kumi Naidoo said from outside the court-room. "The freedom to peacefully expose wrongdoing is not only a crucial part of any democracy, it is a right that must be defended. Greenpeace will continue to make this case a global priority until this unjust conviction is overturned."