Global protest over arrest of Japanese whale activists (Updated)

Feature story - 30 June, 2008
Global protest continues to mount with protests and vigils in front of Japanese embassies around the world and more than 180,000  190,000 200,000 letters being sent to the Japanese government demanding the release of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki -- the Tokyo Two. A network of Japanese lawyers have called the arrests a violation of human rights and a challenge to the freedom of expression in Japan.

Activists conduct peaceful protests at Japanese embassies around the world.

Junichi and Toru have been under arrest since the 20th of June, held without charge. On Tuesday, July 1st, a hearing will be held on whether they will be detained for a further ten days without charge.

UPDATE July 1, 2008:

The court has ruled Junichi and Toru will spend the maximum time in custody without charge permissible under Japanese law - 23 days.

In a message to supporters, sent via their lawyers, Junichi and Toru welcomed the outporing of efforts from people all over the world, adding: "We still need your help. We have been ordered to remain in custody for ten more days without charge. Please encourage your friends to send an email to the Japanese government, if they have not already. Keep watching for news from Greenpeace of more actions you can take and make sure that the global demand to investigate the whale meat scandal we exposed is heard loud and clear here in Japan."

Junichi and Toru exposed a whale-meat embezzlement scandal on May 15th by presenting a box of whale meat stolen by crew of Japan's so-called "scientific whaling" fleet, to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor along with a dossier documenting how they obtained it.  The scam, in which prime cuts of whale meat are smuggled off the ship by crewmembers and sold outside official channels, appears to have been running for years with the full awareness of the officials that conduct the whaling expeditions.

The Japanese whaling programme is funded by taxpayers, at a cost of 500 million yen a year (4.7 million)

The Prosecutor's office took up an investigation, but concluded there was insufficient evidence to pursue charges against any of the crew or whaling officials. The only consequences in the case were for the Greenpeace activists, who intercepted a box of meat as evidence, and were arrested in dramatic raids on their homes and offices, conducted by around 40 police officers in front of television cameras.  The police seized documents, computers, cell phones, and the Greenpeace Japan supporter list.

"The response by the Japanese authorities can only be described as

excessive, unjust and politically motivated...Rather than trying to silence those who point out corruption, the police should be investigating the government officials, whaling fleet operators and staff who smuggle whale meat from the so-called scientific programme funded by Japanese taxpayers and sell it for profit. This and the ongoingwhaling operation in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is where the forces of justice should be focussed."

Gerd Leipold, Executive Director, Greenpeace International

Other voices in Japan are saying that the arrest was a warning to other activist groups that as the G8 approaches, voices of dissent in Japan will not be tolerated.

Kyodo Reported:

    While he disagrees with Greenpeace's anti-whaling stance, journalist Takao Saito said the way the police arrested the two men and the way they investigated the group was heavy-handed.

"(Greenpeace) is functioning as a whistleblower in our society so the authorities should give them a fair hearing to what they have to say."  

WATCH, a network of laywers keeping an eye on human rights in Japan in the run up to the G8, issued a statement saying

"The arrest of the two activists is not only a human rights violation with regard to the unjustifiable arrest, detention and investigation, but also a challenge against the freedom of expression. Police repression against the activists' denunciation obstructs the legitimate activities of both Japanese civil society and international society and is therefore internationally unacceptable and subject to global criticism as an affront to humanity."

Greenpeace supporters have launched protests from Budapest to Sydney, Sao Paolo to Jakarta, Athens to Washington, and points in between:

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