Whaling on trial -- the facts

The whale meat scandal and the 'Tokyo Two'

Page - March 11, 2010
Greenpeace activists Toru Suzuki (below, right) and Junichi Sato (below, left) have been facing trial for nearly two years in Japan and are now awaiting a final verdict. They are charged only for theft and trespass -- yet it has always been clear that they are being persecuted for so much more.

Corrupt government practices, censoring public information, Japan's adherence to international law, freedom of speech and the right of individual protest together with the commercial killing of thousands of whales are all under the spotlight. And before the verdict has even been rendered, a working group of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has already ruled that, in the defendants' attempts to expose a scandal in the public interest, their human rights have been breached by the Japanese government.

Take action: Stand beside Junichi and Toru as co-defendants and show the Japanese government that it cannot silence the opposition to whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The scandal

In 2008, Junichi and exposed a scandal involving government corruption entrenched within the tax-payer funded whaling industry. Their findings included the embezzlement of whale meat. The Tokyo District Prosecutor began an investigation but then shut it down the same day that Junichi and Toru were arrested.

The two were held for 26 days, 23 of them without charge - often tied to chairs while they were interrogated, without a lawyer present. They face up to ten years in jail for doing what any honorable citizen should do - expose corruption. But it is not just Junichi and Toru's liberty that is at stake here - it is the fundamental right peacefully investigate and expose corruption, to challenge authority and to do so without fear of persecution.

Since their initial arrest in June 2008, more than a quarter of a million people have signed a petition to demand justice for the Tokyo Two, and legal experts including Supreme Court advocates worldwide have expressed concern about the prosecution. International human rights and advocacy groups such as Amnesty International have questioned the legitimacy of the prosecution.


Having exposed this scandal, two of our activists our now facing up to 10 years in prison in Japan.

Nothing to hide?

Greenpeace Japan exposed the scandal at a press conference, and delivered the box of whale meat to the Tokyo District Prosecutor, as evidence of widespread corruption in Japan's publicly funded whaling programme.

While the scandal of stolen whale meat is the most shocking, it's not the only revelation to come from this investigation. Further allegations from our informants that require investigation include:

  • Throwing tonnes of whale meat overboard daily because they did not have processing capacity for the increased quotas
  • Cancerous tumors being found and cut out of whales and the remaining meat processed for public sale
  • Targeted hunts to ensure maximum catch, not random "sampling" as required by the research permits
  • Harsh working conditions because of the increased workload from the increased quotas

Read the full dossier of the scandal and the Tokyo Two (updated January 2010)

Before the scandal was exposed, an official of the Japanese Fisheries Agency claimed that whale meat was never given to crew. But after Greenpeace revealed the scandal the embezzlement, responses from those involved with the Japanese Government's whaling programme were many and varied. Kyodo Senpaku changed their story three times in almost as many days. The company now claims that each crew member receives 9.5kg of whale meat.

An investigation was initiated by the Tokyo District Prosecutor but was suddenly dropped on the same day that the Greenpeace office in Tokyo and the homes of four staff members were searched by some 40 police officers, in full glare of the media, who had been tipped off.Junichi and Toru were arrested and held for 26 days. During this period, they were questioned daily for up to ten hours, strapped to a chair, without access to counsel - common practices in Japan, which have drawn repeated criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee. Eventually, Junichi and Toru were charged with theft of the "cardboard" and trespass. They were released subject to strict bail restrictions and face up to ten years in prison.

Breach of human rights

In December, 2009 the UNHRC's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention informed the Japanese government in December that their treatment of Junichi and Toru breached no fewer than five articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The working group also recognised the following facts.

  • Sato and Suzuki acted considering that their actions were in the greater public interest as they sought to expose criminal embezzlement within the taxpayer-funded whaling industry.
  • Junichi and Toru willingly cooperated with the police and the Public Prosecutor but that this cooperation was not acknowledged.
  • The Government did not submit any essential information, such as details of Junichi ans Toru's activities as environmental activists, the investigation they carried out, the evidence they gathered or the help they gave to authorities to formally investigate their allegations.

The Working Group concluded: "The right of these two environmental activists not to be arbitrarily deprived of their liberty; their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to exercise legitimate activities, as well as their right to engage in peaceful activities without intimidation or harassment has not been respected by the Justice system." As such, the Working Group found that the government has contravened articles 18,19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also took the view that Sato and Suzuki had been denied the right to challenge their detention before an independent and impartial tribunal in fair proceedings, and requested that the remainder of the trial be conducted fairly.

More on the Tokyo Two