Tokyo Two face jail with no case to answer

Feature story - 14 May, 2010
Greenpeace anti-whaling activists, Junichi Sato, and Toru Suzuki, appeared in court again today - to face whalers at the heart of Japan's corrupt whaling industry which they exposed. But despite further compelling evidence of government corruption heard by the jury - our activists have been warned by their lawyers that they still run a serious risk of jail time.

'I don't remember'

Artist impression of courtroom proceedings: Judges at back and production manager of Japan's whaling factory ship in the foreground.

The final day of witness testimony saw two whalers who were involved in the whale meat embezzlement scandal on one side of the courtroom and on the other, Junichi and Toru. The whalers consistently contradicted themselves, each other, their own police statements, the prosecutor’s claims, and the official statements from Japanese authorities. Their testimony revealed that whale meat was being illegally taken, not only by crew, but also by officials. And they testified that Kyodo Senpaku, the contractor which runs the whaling fleet, was even delivering whale meat gifts to the Fisheries Agency of Japan – which authorises the so called "research" whaling programme in the Southern Ocean.

On trial for exposing corruption

Junichi and Toru were arrested in 2008, after they had intercepted and handed to the authorities a box of whale meat that proved our claims of large scale corruption in the Japanese taxpayer-funded whaling industry.

Partners in justice

Greenpeace Japan's Junichi Sato (bottom window) and Toru Suzuki (top window) stand in their hotel rooms, unable to meet each other without a lawyer present due to court bail restrictions imposed on them whilst they stand trial in Aomori, Japan. Support Junichi and Toru!

Their defence is one of justification, based on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – which upholds the right to take reasonable action in the public interest to expose wrongdoing. As the whaling programme in Japan is wholly funded by tax-payers, it is clearly in the public interest to expose corruption and embezzlement by the authorities.

“Our investigation set out to prove that there is routine embezzlement from a taxpayer-funded programme and our defence that this investigation was in the public interest has been proven. It is deeply worrying that despite overwhelming evidence showing that we should be acquitted, we are being told that there is a growing chance that we will be sent to jail.” -- Junichi Sato

The Tokyo Two case is also supported by the United Nations Human Rights Council, whose Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that the detention of Junichi and Toru breached international human rights agreements and that the prosecution is political. Amnesty International has also raised concerns about their treatment and prosecution, along with many other organisations, politicians and lawyers.

“Through the course of this trial we have consistently proven that we acted in the public interest, which is protected under international law. We trust that the court will take this into account, and acquit us.” -- Toru Suzuki

Even Japanese media, which normally toe the official line on whaling, are starting to question the false claims of the authorities and the failure of the prosecution to provide a consistent version of events. They are also raising concerns about the legitimacy of the prosecution and the heavy handed, disproportionate approach of the authorities.

Exposing a scandal

May 15th 2008: Junichi holds up one of ten pieces of high quality whale meat that he and Toru obtained during a Greenpeace investigation into large-scale corruption and embezzlement of meat from the Japanese tax-payer funded Antarctic whale hunt. Read more about the scandal and the Tokyo Two

The world is watching

In the spotlight

Junichi is filmed and interviewed by a journalist team from ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), as he travels to Aomori for the latest session.

Even if Junichi and Toru were guilty of stealing a box of whale meat worth $550 USD at the time, a year in jail - the sentence defence lawyers fear could be imposed - would be wholly disproportionate. The 26 days that they have already served in pre-charge detention should be more than sufficient in any democratic judicial system. But of course - they are not guilty of theft since they intercepted the box as evidence and handed it to the authorities.

If Japan sentences the Tokyo Two to jail - it will be not be because they are guilty, but because the Japanese authorities have decided to use Junichi and Toru as a political tool in the current whaling debate. If Junichi and Toru are jailed, it will be the first time in more than two decades that Greenpeace activists have served notable jail time, and a worrying sign that some governments are willing to treat activists as criminals rather than the watchdogs free and open societies desperately need.

If you're not outraged by now...

No excuse

Although Junichi and Toru are in court - it's clear that whaling is really on trial.

If we allow this to go unchallenged it will set a dangerous precedent for non-violent protest - not just in Japan but in any democratic country. We have already seen the same thing happen to our campaigners who were trying to save the climate at the UN Summit in Copenhagen. Our activists will take responsibility for their actions, but they will not lie down and be persecuted for their peaceful protests and legitimate exposure of corruption.

We must continue to send a strong message to Japan that can't be ignored. The prosecution of Junichi and Toru is designed to shut down the campaign to stop whaling, and if we want to see an end to whaling - we must ensure justice is delivered.

Send a message to the Government of Japan and pledge your support for the Tokyo Two.