T2 Update: Rights and Responsibilities in Japan
by Allison Kole
March 17, 2010
Yesterday, expert witness Prof. Voorhoof in the Tokyo Two case spoke on a panel hosted by Aoyama University Society for the Study of Human Rights. He sat with lawyers helping to advance freedom of expression in Japanese society, a defendant from the Tachikawa leafletting case, as well as with co defendant Junichi Sato. Voorhoof spoke about the ‘chilling effect’ that can happen when journalists and citizens no longer puruse information inportant to society for the fear of consequences. Others spoke about the value of freedom of expression in Japan as a democracy and the need to encourage whistleblowers to come forward.
This university event was important for the T2, because while they are helping to put whaling on trial, they also see their case as a vanguard for civil rights in Japanese society. The general asessment by both European and Japanese experts is that in most developed democracies, the T2 would not be standing trial for actions done during their investigation into whale meat embezzlement. Voorhoof and others have outlined the reasons why, and why according to the Japan’s international commitments, it is undermining its own professed values.
The work of Greenpeace surrounding the Tokyo Two case is an effort to guarantee that whaling be put on trial, that the evidence gathered meticulously to expose whale meat embezzlement be heard. It is an effort to exonerate those who in the spirit of democracy pursued information for the public good. This is not an indictment of Japan, it is an indictment of a corrupt whaling industry hiding behind a shadowy government body. This is a test of a government to uphold democratic principles at home that give it positive standing abroad. Freedom of expression can be interpreted differently in different situations, but Article 19 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and relevant international case law show that in the case of the Tokyo Two, Japan is in violation.
Everyone at one time or another has faced some unpleasant reality about their home country. At the moment, for the T2 team in Japan, that probably includes the 99+% conviction rate, or the fact that the judges who hear the opening of the trial, won’t be the ones who reach a final verdict. Most likely, it includes a national media failing to report the trial as a landmark freedom of expression case because of a pro-whaling public, or a government so afraid of the truth, it sends 75 policemen to arrest two people who took then returned a box worth around $500 USD.
Panelists from the university discussion yesterday made some compelling points. Voorhoof noticed the increased interest in the topic of freedom of expression in Japan from his last visit in June. Another panelist said that Japanese laws should not be designed to protect those who do not engage in free speech, for those who wish only to be sheltered from unpleasantness. Taking this idea further, without the engagement of civil society, freedom of expression is just an abstract concept written in a document. We must act to guarantee the realization of this idea for ourselves and for the Tokyo Two. Take action before the next trial phase in May and verdict in June.
"Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity."
– Sean O’Casey