Whaling On Trial

Publication - April 28, 2011
In early 2010, two Greenpeace activists went on trial in Japan in an unprecedented court case - one that court papers will register simply as a case of theft and trespass but which, over the course of the past two years, has become so much more. Corrupt government practices, Japan’s adherence to international law, freedom of speech and the right of individual protest and the commercial killing of thousands of whales are all under the spotlight.

Executive summary: The treatment of the ‘Tokyo Two’ by the Japanese authorities is a catalogue of failures - which have been specifically and formally condemned by the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - to adhere to international law and agreements to which it has given its name and endorsement, as well as its own domestic laws.

Police tip-offs to media prior to the arrest, detention without charge for 23 days, questioning without a lawyer present and while being tied to a chair, censorship of basic information requested through Freedom of Information requests and a blanket refusal to disclose documents that would aid their defence are just some of the notable failings.

Cast as a straightforward criminal trial, the case nevertheless bears all the hallmarks of a political prosecution. An appeal to the initial verdict will begin in Sendai in May 2011. It will put on trial not only whaling but also wider government policies, raising fundamental questions about their legitimacy.

It is not common knowledge inside Japan that the government spent a billion yen of taxpayers’ money on whaling in the previous year, nor that most whale meat is stockpiled in freezers because the appetite for it is so low. The cash-flow between the government, the Institute for Cetacean Research -which sponsors the ‘science’ - and Kyodo Senpaku -which runs the ships - is very murky; attempts to clarify how money is spent and by whom are met with blacked-out documents and denial. The ancient system of ‘Amakudari’ – dropping bureaucrats by ‘golden parachute’ in to well-paid retirement jobs in government agencies - is also intentionally lacking in transparency. And yet, all of these factors ensure that subsidisation of a programme that is not needed, not wanted and not scientifically robust continues.

It is all these scandals that Greenpeace aims to expose in this trial, as well as the original allegations.

Download document - UPDATED 2011, INCLUDES TRIAL VERDICT

Number of pages: 64

See also:

Opinion of the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention - with regard to the treatment of the Tokyo Two by the Japanese authorities.