Activism is not a crime!

Unjust Sentence for Anti-whaling Activists Condemned by Greenpeace

Feature story - September 7, 2010
Greenpeace has condemned as disproportionate and unjust a one year jail term, suspended for three years, imposed on two Greenpeace activists, who exposed widespread corruption in the Japanese government’s Southern Ocean whaling programme.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Greenpeace activists hold black posters and banners with whale symbols outside the Japanese Embassy in Manila, Philippines. © Greenpeace / Luis Liwanag

Following the news of the verdict Greenpeace supporters hung black flags and banners outside Japanese embassies around the world, to signal that the judgement cast a dark shadow over democracy and civil rights.  In Manila, Greenpeace activists went to the Japanese Embassy along Roxas Boulevard waving black flags saying “Justice?” and displayed a banner with the words “Activism is not a crime.”

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were yesterday convicted of theft and trespass after carrying out a public interest investigation into embezzlement, during which they intercepted as evidence one of numerous boxes of whale meat coming from the whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru and destined for private use, which breaches the regulations of the taxpayer-funded programme.

Responding to the verdict Sato said, "While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognise the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defence was based, supersedes domestic criminal law, but the judgement did not properly take this into account."

Greenpeace has condemned as disproportionate and unjust a one year jail term, suspended for three years, imposed on two Greenpeace activists, who exposed widespread corruption in the Japanese government’s Southern Ocean whaling programme.
Following the news of the verdict Greenpeace supporters hung black flags and banners outside Japanese embassies around the world, to signal that the judgement cast a dark shadow over democracy and civil rights.  In Manila, Greenpeace activists went to the Japanese Embassy along Roxas Boulevard waving black flags saying “Justice?” and displayed a banner with the words “Activism is not a crime.”

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were yesterday convicted of theft and trespass after carrying out a public interest investigation into embezzlement, during which they intercepted as evidence one of numerous boxes of whale meat coming from the whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru and destined for private use, which breaches the regulations of the taxpayer-funded programme.

Responding to the verdict Sato said, "While the court acknowledged that there were questionable practices in the whaling industry, it did not recognise the right to expose these, as is guaranteed under international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on which our defence was based, supersedes domestic criminal law, but the judgement did not properly take this into account."

“This sentence is totally disproportionate and completely undeserved,” said Suzuki. “We set out to reveal the truth about the government’s whaling programme, but instead have been punished, while those behind the misuse of public money walk free.”

Following their arrest in June 2008, Sato and Suzuki were subjected to a 26-day detention, that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1) considered a breach of their human rights and politically motivated, followed by a two-year prosecution. During the trial, whalers and whaling officials consistently contradicted their own and each others' evidence about  the embezzlement.
 
Commenting on the case, international law expert and defence witness in the case, Professor Dirk Voorhoof of Ghent University, Belgium, stated “The Tokyo Two’s treatment was already a violation of international human rights law. While a suspended sentence is preferable to a jail term, it still constitutes a further failure to respect the rights of two activists who should never have been arrested and charged in the first place. It also discourages other organisations and journalists from investigating and reporting misconduct by the authorities.”

The case of Sato and Suzuki has generated significant international attention, from senior political figures, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, international human rights groups and legal experts (2). During a visit to Japan earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed concern about the case particularly with regard to freedom of expression and association.  She emphasised the importance of investigations by NGOs to society in general and how their work should be respected.

“Activists are not criminals, and to treat them as such has a chilling effect in society, undermining the quality of democracy,” said Greenpeace International Executive Director Dr. Kumi Naidoo, who travelled to Japan to hear the verdict. “The freedom to peacefully expose wrongdoing is not only a crucial part of any democracy, it is a right that must be defended. Greenpeace will continue to make this case a global priority until this unjust conviction is overturned.”

Notes:
1) In March 2009, Amnesty International lodged a complaint about the treatment of Sato and Suzuki to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The Working Group asked the Japanese government to explain its actions, however, the authorities limited their response to explaining Japan's criminal justice system and claiming, without substantive explanation, that the complaint was unfounded.

The Working Group did not concur, stating that the Japanese authorities have breached articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR. It also expressed concern that articles 2, 10 and 14 of the ICCPR, relating to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, have not been respected.

The full opinion can be found here: http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two/wgad-opinion

2) http://www.greenpeace.org/international/t2-statement-of-concern/

In January 2008, Greenpeace began an investigation into insider allegations that organised whale meat embezzlement was being conducted by crew inside Japan's so-called ’scientific‘ whaling programme, which is funded by Japanese taxpayers. The informer was previously involved in the whaling programme, and following his advice Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki began an investigation, eventually discovering firm proof that cardboard boxes containing whale meat were being secretly shipped to the homes of whaling fleet crew - and then sold for personal profit. Junichi delivered a box of this whale meat to the Tokyo Prosecutors' Office in May 2008, and filed a report of embezzlement. However, the embezzlement investigation was dropped on 20 June - the same day that both men were arrested and then held for 26 days, 23 of which were without charge.

More:
http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two
http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two/whaling-on-trial