Aomori, Japan - Despite conducting a public interest investigation into corruption in the Japanese whaling industry, which was singled out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the longest jail term for any Greenpeace activist in the organisation’s forty-year history was demanded in court in Japan today. Corroborating testimonies from whaling industry whistleblowers backing the allegations and contradictory testimony from prosecution witnesses have failed to prevent the severely disproportionate sentence being requested.
The United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the 26-day detention of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki breached their human rights. Despite this, today the Aomori District Court Prosecutor demanded they each serve a prison term of one year and six months for theft and trespass.
“We acted peacefully and only in the public interest – to gain evidence of embezzlement of whale meat paid for by the Japanese public,” stated Sato. “As a signatory to international human rights treaties, Japan must uphold our right to take such action and we trust the court will recognise this in its decision.”
While investigating allegations of systemic corruption in Japan’s publicly-funded Southern Ocean whaling programme, Sato and Suzuki intercepted whale meat that whistleblowers claimed was destined for the black market, and used it as evidence to request an official investigation. This was dropped without reason by the authorities while Sato and Suzuki, now known as the Tokyo Two, were arrested. Their detention, interrogation and charges have been condemned by international human rights organisations, legal experts and politicians, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“The actions of Junichi and Toru have been peaceful at all times and for the public good. It is deeply worrying that any jail term might be imposed,” said Greenpeace International executive Director Kumi Naidoo. “Human rights experts have considered this case to be politically motivated, and another example of a growing global trend of authorities using the law to silence inconvenient opposition.” He added.
The demand for jail comes just as crucial talks are to begin at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Agadir. More than half a million messages of concern have already been sent to the Japanese government since the arrest of the two men in June 2008.
“With new leadership taking power today we have an opportunity to wipe away two years of inaction by our leaders,” commented Suzuki. “New Prime Minister Naoto Kan needs to prove that he can do what Yukio Hatoyama could not, and prove Japan could be a world leader in defending the rights and importance of civil society.”
A verdict date is still to be confirmed.
Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.
Contacts: Greg McNevin - Greenpeace International Communications, +81 (0) 80 5416 6506, Kyoko Murakami - Greenpeace Japan Communications, +81 (0) 3 5338 9816, Sara Holden – Tokyo Two Campaign Coordinator, + 31 (0) 6 1500 7406,
1) In March 2009, Amnesty International lodged a complaint about the treatment of Sato and Suzuki to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary detention. The Working Group asked the Japanese government to explain its actions, however, the authorities limited their response to explaining Japan's criminal justice system and claiming, without substantive explanation, that the 'source' was factually incorrect.
The Working Group did not concur, stating that the Japanese authorities have breached articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR. It also expressed concern that articles 2, 10 and 14 of the ICCPR, relating to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, have not been respected.
The full opinion can be found here: http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two/wgad-opinion
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 following his advice 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. Junichi 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, 23 of which were without charge. They are currently facing up to ten years in prison for “theft” and “trespass”.
More: http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two/whaling-on-trial