More than eight months after being handed a one-year jail sentence (suspended) for exposing embezzlement within Japan’s whaling industry, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki’s appeal will be finally be heard in the Sendai High Court on Tuesday.

Originally arrested in 2008, the Tokyo Two – as Junichi and Toru have been dubbed – were held for 26 days (23 without charge) and then put through a lengthy prosecution. All because they intercepted a box of whale meat and gave it to the authorities as evidence of deeply-rooted corruption and embezzlement in the whaling industry.

Witness statements and evidence heard during the trial clearly showed that the embezzlement they risked their liberty to expose did indeed exist, yet they were still convicted of “theft” and “trespass” – minor transgressions of the law compared to what they exposed.

Not three months after they were sentenced, an official from the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) admitted in a televised address that unlawful handling of whale meat had in fact occurred. He apologised for the misconduct of five officials who accepted gifts of whale meat totalling approximately US$3,000, and said that a further two key officials - including the FAJ’s second in command and prominent IWC negotiator, Jun Yamashita - were handed warnings, as they were ultimately responsible for the actions of their staff.

Yamashita left the agency on January 11, however, no thorough investigation has been conducted, and no charges have been brought despite the crimes admitted by the FAJ being far more serious than what Junichi and Toru were prosecuted for.

Still, this admission and apology could have serious ramifications on the Tokyo Two appeal next week. It shows that as with most so-called “facts” relating to Japan’s whaling programme, the official story cannot be trusted, and that what has been admitted is clearly just the tip of the iceberg. But more importantly, it again underscores the fact that Junichi and Toru’s actions were proportionate to what they were trying to expose, that they were working in the public interest, and that their actions directly lead to improvements in the accountability of public officials and – one would hope – reducing corruption.

While we approach what we hope will be an acquittal and the end of the Tokyo Two’s long struggle for justice, the whaling industry is continuing its spiralling decline.  

The factory ship is crumbling, major supermarkets are dropping whale meat from sale, and earlier this year the whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku admitted its sales dropped 30% in the first half of the 2010 fiscal year. Now that the tragic March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster has had a profound effect on Japan’s fishing industry, fishing communities and its economy, it is clearer than ever to that the authorities cannot afford to continue wasting taxpayer money on the corrupt, unneeded and unwanted whaling industry.

It’s time for Japan to end taxpayer support for this wasteful, destructive industry. For justice for the Tokyo Two, and Justice for whales.

Image -Accompanied by Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo (left of photo), Greenpeace Japan activists Toru Suzuki (right of photo) and Junichi Sato (center of photo) depart Aomori Court after receiving a 1 year sentence suspended for 3 years, in their trial for trespass and theft of a box of whale meat. The banners held by Greenpeace Japan colleagues claim the sentence is a "wrongful conviction". Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton Hibbert