Justice for whales, justice for Greenpeace

Feature story - February 19, 2009
An ancient Japanese legend says that anyone who folds 1000 paper cranes will have their heart's desire come true. On 16 February, 1000 paper whales were delivered to the Japanese embassy in Stockholm with a message "Free Junichi and Toru".From deliveries of origami whales in Sweden, to giant wooden handcuffs in Hong Kong and caged prisoners in Turkey, activists from around the world have been visiting Japanese embassies and consulates this week to call for justice as the Tokyo Two faced their first formal court hearing.

Greenpeace activists locked in handcuffs with a picture of a whale, protested outside the Consulate-General of Japan in Hong Kong, China. The protesters expressed concerns over the illegal whaling by the Japanese in the Southern Ocean.

Support has come in from all over the planet. Activists have been busy in Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Turkey, Hong Kong, the United States, Israel, Greece  - and there's more to come.

This morning in Auckland, Greenpeace activists staged a whale stranding in Mission Bay.

  The two activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, attended a closed "pre-trial" court session in the Japanese city of Aomori on February 13th, where they face a politically-driven prosecution and up to ten years in prison for alleged theft and trespass. The two were arrested in June 2008, after they exposed a major embezzlement scandal at the heart of the Japanese government-sponsored whale hunt. They exposed abuse of taxpayer subsidies in the hope of prompting an independent investigation into the corrupt whale industry.

Overreaction

The Tokyo Two gathered firm evidence that boxes of whale meat were being secretly shipped to the homes of whaling fleet crew and sold for personal gain. Junichi took a box of whale meat that had been disguised as personal luggage from a depot and handed it over it to the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office in May 2008 while filing a report of embezzlement. But the investigation was dropped on June 20th - the same day that both activists were arrested and then held for 26 days before being charged. They were interrogated for up to 12 hours day while handcuffed and strapped to chairs. Toru went on a hunger strike for a week and refused to speak for 13 days to highlight his political imprisonment. 

Junichi (left), Toru (right), and their lead counsel, Yuichi Kaido (centre) face reporters at a press briefing following their first pre-trial hearing at Aomori District Court.

Since Junichi and Toru were released they have not been allowed to talk to each other or other Greenpeace activists. They are forbidden to be away from their homes for extended periods and they cannot leave the country. They can only speak with journalists separately, in their lawyers' office. Both have been followed by undercover police and received anonymous threats after their addresses were revealed by the media.

Strong defence 

The Tokyo Two had no intent of illegal acquisition for personal gain, which is one of the elements that defines the crime of "theft" under Japanese law. And their defence counsel is also using international law to argue that Junichi and Toru were exercising their right to freedom of expression - guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). If public watchdogs - such as media and non-governmental organisations - are to function effectively, freedom of expression is essential. Any conviction of a criminal offence in this instance would breach Japan's obligations under the ICCPR. 

Junichi and Toru face a further pre-trial hearing on 23 March, while the start date of the public trial is yet to be decided. But they are not facing this alone. Over 250,000 people are standing beside them in solidarity as 'co-defendants' who have asked Japan to arrest them too if defending whales is a crime.

'Co-defendants' demand a just trial for the Tokyo Two outside in the Japanese Embassy in Copenhagen.

Breaking the ice

In order to raise awareness in Japan about this injustice and to promote our other campaigns we recently opened a communications centre in the northern fishing district of Aomori were the Tokyo Two trial is being held. And during the Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido we added some inspiration with an ice sculpture celebrating the beauty and importance of our oceans. Carved by artist Yasuhiro Sone, the sculpture included a humpback whale, a dolphin and a tuna - among other sea creatures - swimming around a globe. The Festival is a major event in Japan with up to two million visitors.

Our office in Japan is under attack and our activists are being prosecuted as a warning to citizens who bring whaling into question. But we are not giving up. The only way we can stop whales being harpooned in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is to bring down the whaling industry in Japan. We have it on its knees and with enough support we can finish it - forever. 

Takie action

If defending whales is a crime - ask Japan to arrest you too!

Support us

Without donations from individuals like you we would not be able to support our activists and continue to push for an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean. Please give what you can.

Categories