It was indeed a black Friday last week. Two Greenpeace activists Junichi and Toru appeared in court for a pre trial hearing. They face the possibility of prison for their role in defending the whales – for exposing illegal whale meat trade in Japan.
Lawyers for two activists plan to use the case to expose corruption within Japan’s whaling industry. They say there are wider issues at stake and the activists’ actions have revealed a wide-spread rip-off of taxpayers’ money.
Last year Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki uncovered a secret operation where crew of one of Japan’s whaling boats were smuggling meat from the ship and selling it for profit.
While gathering evidence of this they intercepted a cardboard box of whale meat, disguised as personal effects, destined for the black market. Realising the whale meat was proof of a crime they delivered the box and its contents to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor’s office.
Ironically, a month later both men were themselves arrested, and some time later, charged with trespass and the theft of the box they had supplied as evidence.
Last Friday they had their first formal court appearance at a pre trial. While they did not dispute they took the whale meat, their lawyers say their reasons for doing so mean they are not guilty of any offence.
Rather than theft they say the two men were acting to stop the large-scale misuse of public money which is used to subsidise the country’s whaling industry.
The court has yet to decide if it is prepared to look at the wider implications raised by this case. A second pre trial date has been set. If the men are found guilty they will likely be sentenced to prison.
There's more on this story here as we take our message to the beach in support of the whales and our Japanese colleagues.