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Sep 102010
 

From Green Right Now Reports

Junichi Sato (left), Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo (center) and Toru Suzuki (right) leave the courthouse after sentencing.

A pair of Greenpeace activists have been sentenced to suspended one-year jail terms after the two were found guilty of stealing a box of whale meat the group claimed provided proof of embezzlement in state-run research whaling.

The Aomori district court convicted Junichi Sato, 33, and Toru Suzuki, 43, of theft and trespass charges. The one-year jail terms were suspended for three years.

Sato and Suzuki admitted they stole a box of salted whale meat in 2008, but claimed they acted in the public interest to highlight embezzlement in Japan’s whaling program. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, who was in Japan for the reading of the verdict, said, “Activists are not criminals and to treat them as such has a chilling effect in society, undermining the quality of democracy.”

Judge Kenji Ogawa rejected defense arguments, saying, “The investigative activities went beyond acceptable levels, even if they were in the name of the public interest.”

After commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, Japan set up the non-profit Institute of Cetacean Research and continues to cull hundreds of the ocean mammals annually in the name of science. The activists say they were contacted over two years ago by a veteran whaler, who made claims of corruption and waste.

According to the whaler, crewmen were receiving boxes of whale meat at their homes after they returned from their annual arctic hunts. Sato and Suzuki followed the trail to the depot of a courier company in Aomori, where Suzuki on April 16, 2008 took a 50-pound box labeled “cardboard and vinyl,” which was filled with whale meat. They handed the box to Tokyo prosecutors and called a press conference to publicize what they saw as evidence of graft.

On June 20, police arrested Sato and Suzuki and raided Greenpeace’s Tokyo office and staff homes, seizing computer hard drives and boxes of documents. The embezzlement case was dropped on the day of the arrests, but the two activists were held for 26 days and interrogated three times a day strapped to chairs without their lawyers present, Greenpeace said.

Sato said the two would appeal and added: “The verdict is unfair in that it violates our rights to let people know, and the people’s right to know.

Despite the International Whaling Commission ban, three countries, Japan, Norway and Iceland, have continued to hunt whale. Japan cites scientific research as its rationale, but it is well known that whale meat ends up at the food market.

The Pew Environmental Group estimates that more than 1,000 whales are killed every year, despite the ban, because the IWC has no authority to stop the non-complying countries.