Greenpeace activists exposed corruption, stealing and other scandals in the Japanese whaling industry. Compelling evidence was presented to prosecutors but instead Junichi and Toru were jailed without charge for almost 4 weeks and eventually themselves convicted of theft. But their trial put the spotlight right back on the corrupt and bankrupt industry for all to see.
In 2008, two Greenpeace activists from Japan exposed a major corruption scandal in the whaling industry. Prime cuts of whale meat were being smuggled ashore by the crew of the Japanese whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru, for illegal trade and personal gain, at the Japanese taxpayer's expense. Although the public prosecutor initially investigated the allegations of theft and corruption, it was the two Greenpeace campaigners who were eventually arrested, charged with theft of the whale meat they intercepted as evidence of the corruption, and threatened with ten years in jail.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission ruled that Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki’s human rights had been breached during their 26-day detention, 23 days of which was spent without being charged and frequently tied to a chair while being interrogated. The prosecution continued despite the UNHRC ruling and more than 500,000 emails requested the real thieves be prosecuted.
During the nearly three years it took for the case to be completed, Japanese media, human rights and environmental groups as well as politicians inside and outside Japan became increasingly convinced of the corruption within the industry. An extensive dossier outlining the investigation, containing interviews with whistleblowers from the whaling industry and documentation proving the embezzlement was presented to prosecutors and officials. Junichi and Toru’s principle defence was that taking the whale meat as evidence of the corruption was a reasonable action in order to carry out an investigation in good faith and in the public interest – as the whaling programme is funded by tax-payers money. You can read the key facts of the trial here. In the days prior to the sentence being given, leading Japanese newspapers such as Tokyo Shimbun and Kyodo filed stories with headlines including "the trial of whale meat theft exposes horrifying realities" and "Scientific Whaling is diverting to illegal channels after all". Public opinion had begun to turn.
Despite that, after the lengthy and drawn out case, Junichi and Toru’s defence under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was denied and they were given a one year suspended sentence, despite the judges admitting there were clearly questionable practises in the whaling industry.
Only a few months later, the Fisheries Agency finally admitted that at least 5 officials had been involved in the scandal and ordered 2 top officials to take its responsibility. None was charged, although the authorities claim they were disciplined.
The case of the Tokyo Two has changed the way many officials, journalists and the public in Japan view the whaling industry. It was the start of a campaign to end whaling in Japan with the support of the Japanese people. The campaign continues.