Justice for the Tokyo Two - justice for whales, coming our way?

Feature story - May 15, 2009
Justice is starting to go the Tokyo Two way: A court in Aomori, Japan, has delivered a series of setbacks to the prosecution in the trial of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki (the activists known as the Tokyo Two) - and the Japanese government's attempts to cover up an embezzlement scandal within the whaling industry.

First, the court has ruled that evidence of the embezzlement scandal cannot be excluded. Second, the issue of whether or not Junichi and Toru's actions are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can and will be discussed during the trial. Third, the court has requested that the prosecutor come forward with witness testimonies that may prove crucial to the case - and to further disclose evidence of the whale meat scandal.

The prosecutor had previously been attempting to portray the actions of Junichi and Toru as being a simple case of theft, and to block any discussion of the embezzlement. The court has rightly refused to accept this, ruling that this evidence cannot be excluded - evidence which details the exposure by Junichi and Toru of a major corruption scandal within the Japanese government-sponsored Southern Ocean whaling program. 

Junichi and Toru risk up to ten years in jail if convicted of theft. They removed a box of embezzled whale meat from a mail depot last year, and presented it to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor, who immediately opened up an investigation into corruption in the government-subsidised whaling program. The investigation was later discontinued - on the same day that Junichi and Toru were arrested, and the Greenpeace Japan office raided.

"The court has urged the prosecutor to disclose evidence that he's been holding back. This includes statements made to police by the "owner" of the intercepted box of whale meat;  by several individuals who purportedly entrusted their whale meat to him, and by an employee of whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku, who made the arrangements to transport the crewmembers' "personal luggage" from the ship to their homes. If that sounds murky, it's probably because it is.

"In this trial, we want to establish that what Junichi and Toru did was to corroborate information provided by whistleblowers regarding embezzlement within the Kyodo Senpaku whaling fleet," said the Tokyo Two's defence lawyer, Yuichi Kaido.

"With the prosecutor's opinion being rejected by the court, we have gained a foothold in this case and the opportunity to prove that there was indeed embezzlement of whale meat by employees."

In fact, it seems that prosecutor's attempts to keep the whale meat scandal and several witnesses out of the courtroom, and thus the public eye, has only resulted in making the judges more curious. Maybe it's because the prosecutor knows that the whaling industry really has something to hide?

"The government was hoping to bury this scandal by putting the messengers on trial," said Jun Hoshikawa, Greenpeace Japan Executive Director. "However, as more evidence of embezzlement comes to light, at the end of the day it will be whaling that is on trial."

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