Global Demand to release Greenpeace Activists in Japan Grows

Embassies flooded with protests after Tokyo Two ordered to remain in custody

Press release - 23 June, 2008
Two Greenpeace Japan activists, arrested last Friday for exposing an embezzlement ring at the heart of the Japanese government's so-called scientific whaling programme have been ordered to spend a further nine days in jail without charge , after an appeal for them to be released was rejected by a court in Aomori.

The case of the Tokyo Two - Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki - has gained global attention. In the last four days nearly 100,000 people have sent protest letters, calling for their immediate release, to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, and the Foreign Minister, Masahiko Koumura via Japanese embassies in 28 countries.

The letter reads:

"I am writing to protest, in the strongest terms, the arrest of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki for exposing a whale meat smuggling ring.

These activists are innocent of any crime. They have returned a box of whale meat stolen from Japanese taxpayers. They have openly cooperated with police in returning the whale meat and presented a full dossier on how it was obtained.

As a result of the evidence they presented, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor began an investigation into allegations of embezzlement involving smuggled whale meat which raise serious questions about the scale and extent of the abuse of taxpayers' money by the operators of the Southern Ocean whaling programme.

Arresting the activists who have exposed this scandal is not acceptable, and suggests that the corruption that they called to the world's attention runs deep in the Japanese government. It is an essential principle of democracy that those who act to expose wrongdoing in government should not be subject to intimidation or harassment, no matter how powerful the forces they oppose. Please, release the activists and pursue the criminals."

"While the two are being detained without charge, government officials from the Fisheries Agency of Japan are attending the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Chile where it is seeking to end whale conservation by calling for a return to commercial whaling, it is even threatening to leave the IWC if it does not get its way," said Greenpeace Japan Executive Director Jun Hoshikawa.

"The world is protesting the continued unnecessary detention of Sato and Suzuki. This case and Japan's behaviour at the IWC casts a long shadow over democracy as the country prepares for the G8 meeting. Prime Minister Fukuda promised leadership at the G8 that should be an example of how to create a better world. That process must begin now, by stopping the intimidation of peaceful protestors who have only acted to expose environmental crimes and ending the drive to return to commercial whaling," concluded Hoshikawa.

Other contacts: Keiko Shirokawa: Greenpeace Japan Media, in Tokyo: + 81 90 3470 7884Mike Townsley, Greenpeace International, in Amsterdam: +31 621 296 918Dave Walsh, Greenpeace International, at the IWC in Chile, +56 9 939 2952

Notes: In May, a four-month undercover investigation by Greenpeace in Japan revealed evidence of an embezzlement ring involving crew members on board the Nisshin Maru - the fleets factory ship onboard which the whales killed in the name of science are chopped and boxed for market. It provided evidence that crew were openly taking the best cuts of whale meat and smuggling them ashore disguised as personal luggage and then passing it on to the traders for illegal sale.Greenpeace obtained one of the boxes, for which the paper work had been falsified claiming the contents as "cardboard" but it in fact contained 23.5 kgs of prime cut whale meat worth up to US$3,000. In total 47 suspicious boxes were identified by Greenpeace. That box was presented as evidence to the Tokyo Public Prosecutors Office on May 8.Informers told Greenpeace that senior crew and officials from Kyodo Senpaku - the company operating the fleet and the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) were turning a blind eye to the theft, allowing it to continue for decades.The "Stolen Japanese Whale Meat Scandal" dossier is available to download in English and Japanese at: peaceful actions of the crew of the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary earlier this year stopped the entire whaling operation for more than two weeks. The factory ship, Nisshin Maru returned to port with half the planned quota of minke whales and no endangered fin whales. The whalers were forced to admit that previous claims that fin whale numbers were increasing was not proved by the expedition -in which so few fin whales were seen they were unable to catch any.