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Tokyo Two face stiffest jail term in Greenpeace’s history

13/06/2010 19:09:17 One-and-a-half-year jail term demanded for investigators who exposed Japanese whaling corruption

June 2010: Despite conducting a public interest investigation into corruption in the Japanese whaling industry, which
was singled out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the longest jail term for any Greenpeace activist in the organisation's 40-year history was demanded in court in Japan.

Corroborating testimonies from whaling industry whistleblowers backing the allegations and contradictory testimony from prosecution witnesses have failed to prevent the request for such a severe sentence.

The Tokyo Two's investigation

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. They now face prison terms for "theft" and "trespass".

The United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated that the 26-day detention of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki - now known as the Tokyo Two - had breached their human rights, yet despite the Aomori District Court Prosecutor has demanded they each serve a prison term of one year and six months for theft and trespass.

'We acted peacefully and in the public interest'

‘We acted peacefully and only in the public interest - to gain evidence of embezzlement of whale meat paid for by the Japanese public,' stated Sato. ‘As a signatory to international human rights treaties, Japan must uphold our right to take such action and we trust the court will recognise this in its decision.'

While investigating allegations of systemic corruption in Japan's publicly-funded Southern Ocean whaling programme, Sato and Suzuki intercepted whale meat that whistleblowers claimed was destined for the black market, and used it as evidence to request an official investigation. This was dropped without reason by the authorities while Sato and Suzuki, now known as the Tokyo Two, were arrested. Their detention, interrogation and charges have been condemned by international human rights organisations, legal experts and politicians, including Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Human rights experts regard this case to be politcally motivated

‘The actions of Junichi and Toru have been peaceful at all times and for the public good. It is deeply worrying that any jail term might be imposed,' said Greenpeace International executive Director Kumi Naidoo. ‘Human rights experts have considered this case to be politically motivated, and another example of a growing global trend of authorities using the law to silence inconvenient opposition.'

More than half a million messages of concern have already been sent to the Japanese government since the arrest of the two men in June 2008.

'With new leadership having just taken power we have an opportunity to wipe away two years of inaction by our leaders,' commented Suzuki. 'New Prime Minister Naoto Kan needs to prove that he can do what Yukio Hatoyama could not, and show that Japan could be a world leader in defending the rights and importance of civil society.'

A verdict date is still to be confirmed.

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