Whale heroes face jail on World Oceans Day

Feature story - June 8, 2010
World Oceans Day is a day for us to celebrate our seas and a time for us to honor ocean heroes across the planet. But, as the trial of two of our anti-whaling campaigners came to an end in Japan, the prosecution asked for Junichi and Toru to be jailed for 18 months. This is an outrageous politically motivated request considering they are absolutely innocent. If imposed this would be the longest jail term for any Greenpeace activist - ever.

A sketch of Junichi Sato, Tadano Yasushi (lawyer) and Toru Suzuki (left to right) in court.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the Tokyo Two, were arrested 2 years ago after exposing government corruption at the heart of Japan's whaling industry. They carried out a public interest investigation into claims made by whistleblowers and gathered strong evidence to prove their allegations. Their trial started in February this year and the case for their defense has been solid throughout. Despite the prosecution struggling to prove its own arguments - with contradictory testimonies from prosecution witnesses who often had to agree with the defence on key points - a severely disproportionate sentence has been requested.

Guilty of exposing a scandal

Junichi and Toru intercepted a box of embezzled whalemeat, in 2008, and handed it over to the Tokyo Two Prosecutor as part of the evidence they collected in their investigation. What they did was essential to prove their allegations. What they did - was honorable and in the public interest. And even though the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the 26-day detention of Junichi and Toru breached their human rights - the Aomori District Court Prosecutor demanded they each serve a prison term of one year and six months for theft and trespass.

"We acted peacefully and only in the public interest - to gain evidence of embezzlement of whale meat paid for by the Japanese public. As a signatory to international human rights treaties, Japan must uphold our right to take such action and we trust the court will recognize this in its decision." -- Junichi Sato.

An inconvenient opposition

Junichi and Toru requested an official investigation into their allegations. And although this was started - it was dropped without reason by the authorities while the Tokyo Two were arrested. Their detention, interrogation and charges have been condemned by international human rights organizations, legal experts and politicians, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"It is deeply worrying that any jail term might be imposed. Human rights experts have considered this case to be politically motivated, and another example of a growing global trend of authorities using the law to silence inconvenient opposition." -- Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.

The demand for jail comes just as crucial talks are to begin at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco. More than half a million messages of concern have already been sent to the Japanese government since the Tokyo Two were arrested in June 2008. And thousands of letters are now being sent to the Foreign Minister of Japan - calling for an end to whaling and an end to the prosecution of the Junichi and Toru.

With new leadership taking power in Japan  - they have an opportunity to wipe away two years of inaction by Japanese leaders. New Prime Minister Naoto Kan needs to prove that he can do what Yukio Hatoyama could not, and demonstrate that Japan can be a world leader in defending the rights and importance of civil society.

The verdict and final sentencing will take place on September 6, 2010.

Defending our Oceans

This World Oceans Day - as the struggle continues to end whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary - we're also taking action around the world to defend some of the most fragile and threatened marine ecosystems on the planet.

The crew on board our ship, Esperanza, has just finished the first leg of the Arctic Under Pressure Expedition where they have been working with scientists to set up a first-of-its-kind experiment to study the impacts of ocean acidificiation in the Arctic. The chemistry of our oceans is changing as more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels dissolves into the sea - and this impact of carbon dioxide could threaten marine life just as seriously as climate change. The Esperanza will continue the expedition in the Arctic by monitoring fishing vessels in the area which have moved north to exploit new stocks, which have become accessible now that the sea ice is disappearing as Arctic temperatures increase.

In the Mediterranean, our activists on board the Rainbow Warrior and the Arctic Sunrise have been defending the endangered Northern bluefin tuna following the failure of governments and management organizations to protect this key species earlier in the year. We're calling for the closure of this fishery in the Mediterranean and the creation of a marine reserve surrounding the Balearic islands - protecting one of the bluefin's most important spawning grounds in the Med. This area is even more crucial now that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is threatening the bluefin spawning grounds there.

On World Oceans Day this year - defending our oceans seems harder than ever as the threats to marine life and to our activists become more serious. But rather than be discouraged - we're intensifying our efforts and we're asking our supporters to do the same.

Take action

Call for an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean and support Junichi and Toru by writing to Japan's Foreign Minister.

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