Unjust Sentence for Anti-whaling Activists Condemned by Greenpeace

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.
 
Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were today 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 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.
 
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.”

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