Aomori, Japan, September 6, 2010 – Greenpeace has condemned as disproportionate and unjust a one year jail term, suspended for three years, imposed on two Greenpeace activists, who exposed widespread corruption in the Japanese government’s Southern Ocean whaling program.
Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were today convicted of theft and trespass after carrying out a public interest investigation into embezzlement, during which they intercepted as evidence one of numerous boxes of whale meat coming from the whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru and destined for private use, which breaches the regulations of the taxpayer-funded program.
Responding to the verdict Sato said, "While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognize the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defense was based, supersedes domestic criminal law, but the judgement did not properly take this into account."
“This sentence is totally disproportionate and completely undeserved,” said Suzuki. “We set out to reveal the truth about the government’s whaling program, but instead have been punished, while those behind the misuse of public money walk free.”
Following the news of the verdict Greenpeace supporters hung black flags and banners outside Japanese embassies around the world, to signal that the judgement cast a dark shadow over democracy and civil rights.
Following their arrest in June 2008, Sato and Suzuki were subjected to a 26-day detention, that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1) considered a breach of their human rights and politically motivated, followed by a two-year prosecution. During the trial, whalers and whaling officials consistently contradicted their own and each others' evidence about the embezzlement.
Commenting on the case, international law expert and defence witness in the case, Professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University, Belgium, stated “The Tokyo Two’s treatment was already a violation of international human rights law. While a suspended sentence is preferable to a jail term, it still constitutes a further failure to respect the rights of two activists who should never have been arrested and charged in the first place. It also discourages other organizations and journalists from investigating and reporting misconduct by the authorities.”
The case of Sato and Suzuki has generated significant international attention, from senior political figures, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, international human rights groups and legal experts (2). During a visit to Japan earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern about the case particularly with regard to freedom of expression and association. She emphasised the importance of investigations by NGOs to society in general and how their work should be respected.
“Activists are not criminals, and to treat them as such has a chilling effect in society, undermining the quality of democracy,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Dr. Kumi Naidoo, who travelled to Japan to hear the verdict. “The freedom to peacefully expose wrongdoing is not only a crucial part of any democracy, it is a right that must be defended. Greenpeace will continue to make this case a global priority until this unjust conviction is overturned.”
Greenpeace is an independent, global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.
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 complaint was unfounded.
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 organized 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 program, 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.
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, + 81 (0) 80 393 033 42
Photo and video of from today’s court appearance and activities are available. Please contact:
Greenpeace International picture desk, Amsterdam: (+31 (0) 2 0718 2470)
Greenpeace International video, Amsterdam: (+31 (0) 646 162 015)