When I learned of the verdict delivered at the the Sendai High Court today, it struck me just how long a road it has been for Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki - the Tokyo Two, and not a road that involved much justice.
In 2008, I was working for Greenpeace in New Zealand when the news came through that our office in Japan had been raided by a comically huge police contingent, and that Junichi and Toru had been arrested. They were held for the better part of a month before being charged with trivial crimes of “trespass” and “theft”, all because they entered a transport depot in full view of staff, removed a box of whale meat and gave it to the authorities as evidence of embezzlement of public money.
Junichi Sato (2nd from right), Executive Director of Greenpeace Japan, stands outside Sendai Court, alongside his defense counsel: Yasushi Tadano (in blue shirt), after receiving an upheld conviction in his appeal hearing: a one year sentence suspended for 3 years. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace
Last September, after an extended trial where key evidence was withheld, witness testimony ignored, and basic human rights trampled, Junichi and Toru were finally handed one year jail sentences, suspended for three years. For those of us working closely with the case, the entire process: from the public prosecutors dropping the official embezzlement investigation, the heavy-handed police raid, to the very narrow view the court took on the case, seemed to be engineered to ensure Junichi and Toru would be found guilty and punished for standing up against official corruption.
Three months after the verdict was handed down, our fortunes seemed to have changed when the Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted that its officials had illegally accepted whale meat “gifts” from the whaling industry. An official apology was issued with a promise that those involved had been reprimanded, although no real investigation had taken place and the “punishments” meted out amounted to little more than a dressing down compared to Junichi and Toru’s sentences. Only one official, prominent IWC negotiator Jun Yamashita, appears to have lost his job as a result of the admisson.
The admission did amount to a further vindication for the Tokyo Two, adding significant weight to their allegations of embezzlement within Japan’s whaling industry. Despite no new evidence being allowed during Junichi and Toru’s appeal to the Sendai High Court this June, we had hoped that the court would recognize the FAJ’s admission as a vindication and acquit them.
Unfortunately, the Sendai High Court chose to uphold the Aomori court’s unjust verdict in full, maintaining the black mark on Japan’s justice system and international human rights record, and reinforcing the message that if one stands up to corruption in Japan, severe punishment will follow.
During the delivery of today’s verdict, the lead judge softly mumbled through his comments, leaving Junichi and the defence counsel straining to hear that there was in fact no clear reason for the decision. When citizens are convicted for exposing corruption, offences which are later confirmed by the authorities, and are still found guilty on appeal, a society must question its leaders.
The Tokyo Two’s case has exposed the corrupt, wasteful heart of the industry to the Japanese public, forced an unprecedented admission and apology from the FAJ, and poured cold water on the cosy relationship between the government and the industry.
The March 11 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster have also had a profound effect on Japan and left the lives of many citizens and fishing communities in tatters. With the reconstruction effort and so many people needing support, it will be hard for the FAJ to justify wasting more taxpayer money on the unneeded and unwanted whaling industry, not to mention throw away the huge sums required to replace the aging whaling factory ship, Nisshin Maru so it can return to the Southern Ocean. The Tokyo Two deserve justice, whales need justice, and the people of Japan need justice from this crooked industry. By properly investigating the whale meat scandal and re-directing the tax money wasted on whaling, the Japanese government can give it to them.
Read more about the Tokyo Two trial here.
Greg McNevin works for Greenpeace International’s communications team and has been working on the Tokyo Two case since 2008.