Have you heard of Japan’s “Tokyo-Two”? Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki are the two Greenpeace activists – both Japanese – that intercepted a box of whale meat that was meant as a gift to a crewmember of one of the whale ships that continue to kill whales on the endangered species list mercilessly. These two were imprisoned and a trial was held on September 6th, 2010.
A recap. The whalers were actually government-funded, meaning that Japanese taxpayers’ money was what paid for the crew, the boats, the material, the food… well, you get my drift. Claiming to be doing scientific research on these ocean mammals, the boats had a malevolent operation underway.
You see, these whalers were actually after the meat, not the data. Sure, there were scientists on board and real data collected to ensure the cover-up was complete, but the illegal sale of the meat took place shortly afterwards. The box Sato and Suzuki intercepted, or “stole”, as the police named it, contained 23.5kg of salted unesu whale meat, worth approximately one to three thousand US dollars. When asked, the whaling fleet said that the purchase was fully legitimate, bought from the ICR (Institute of Cetacean Research), and these boxes were souvenirs for the crew. However, an investigation turned up nothing; no receipt of the purchase was ever found, and three others claimed to have given the owner of the box some of the meat from their own allocation.
Worse, the crewmembers were not even allowed to take home any of this meat. Later, the head of sales of Kyodo Senpaku, Asahi Shimbun, stated that they don’t actually give souvenirs – a contradiction of what was said previously – and that this meat was a sort of payment. And, during the trial of the Tokyo-Two, those who said they had given the meat to the owner of the box couldn’t even agree on the type or the amount given. As if this weren’t enough, Greenpeace has a picture of a member of the ICR putting a box labeled “sample” in the trunk of his car. Official samples are collected by refrigerated trucks. More evidence showed that this meat was put up for sale.
When questioned, the owner of the box kept changing his story and his lies were often disproved. He even brought 5kg of salt on the boat, saying he would be using it for cooking the 30kg of meat he brought home – which he said he and his wife ate in one month… something that is almost impossible, considering his wife was traveling that month.
Even with this quantity of proof – there’s more – the police never questioned the courier company on the embezzlement of meat, only on the actually interception, or “theft”, as they like to call it. All proof showing that Sato and Suzuki were trying to denounce this embezzlement was available before they were arrested, yet the defense received it only at the end of their trial TWO YEARS LATER. Furthermore, important information disclosed by the crewmembers was hidden by the police. They claimed it was “personal information”.
The UN also declares NGOs as legally allowed to serve as watchdogs over anyone breaking international laws. Therefore, Sato and Suzuki should never have been arrested in the first place, since international law supersedes any Japanese criminal code. And, if the Japanese wanted to give them some sort of punishment, a fine would have been appropriate, not 26 days of detention.
The prosecution lasted an entire two years. On September 6th, they walked to Court to hear the verdict. They got one year with a suspension of three years. The prosecutor had asked for 18 months in jail. And although the Court admitted that the whalers are not authorized to do what they did, they did not recognize the right to denounce this illegal action as per international law. They also mentioned that the illegal sale of meat diminished thanks to Sato and Suzuki BUT STILL PUT THEM IN PRISON, claiming that they had harmed the reputation of the delivery company, and this was far more important than the public interest in the investigation against the whalers. They went on to say that they are not impeding on freedom of expression, of denouncing an international illegal act, when the UN slammed hard on the Japanese authorities for their handling of this case.
The Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted to the “gifts” of whale meat, and one official seems to have lost his job due to the admission. However, the right to appeal by Sato and Suzuki was rejected by the Japanese Court even in the light of such an announcement.
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Some facts about the trial (copied and pasted straight from the Greenpeace PDF document):
• Greenpeace identified 33 consignment notes showing that 23 crew members sent at least 93 boxes to their homes and other locations.
• The boxes were sent to at least 30 addresses by 23 crew members, out of whom 12 appear on the employee register obtained by Greenpeace. Those 12 were all production workers in charge of processing the whale meat on the Nisshin Maru.
• The sender of the box that Greenpeace obtained sent four heavy boxes in total to his home address in Hokkaido. The box taken by Greenpeace contained 23.5 kg of prime cut whale meat called unesu.
• The market price of unesu bacon in the Japanese restaurants and supermarkets at this time was around 5,000 yen (about $50 US dollars) to 15,000 yen (about $150) per kilo. Greenpeace estimates the value of the unfinished product in the box to be between $1000 and $3000 US dollars.
• Junichi was interrogated for around 80 hours in total
• Toru was interrogated for around 120 hours in total
• Interrogation took place three times a day
• During the interrogations, no lawyers were present and no recordings made.
• On 11 July 2008 in Aomori, Junichi and Toru were indicted for theft of whale meat worth 58,905 yen ($550) and trespass at the Seino Transportation depot.
• Only 5% of Japanese people continue to consume whale meat.
• Japan’s confession rate was 91.2% in 2004, the last year for which figures are available from by the Supreme Court.
• At the District Court level, Japan’s conviction rate is 99.8% according to the same 2004 figures.
• If the whale meat was a ‘souvenir’ as the whaling companies claim, then:
- Where is the proof that it was legitimately purchased?
- Why did only a small number of crew take home large quantities of the meat, using Seino Transport, if all are entitled to it?
- Why was it salted rather than frozen like the rest of the meat if it was an official gift?
- If it was a gift, why were the boxes given obscure labels such as ‘cardboard’, and why was the meat hidden under dirty clothes?
- If this was a legitimate practice, why have all the whale meat sales figures and other related documents requested by Greenpeace under freedom of information laws been heavily censored?
• Why did the transport company only report the ‘theft’ of the box after Greenpeace’s press conference presenting it, weeks after it happened? Why wasn’t it reported immediately?
• Why was the criminal complaint not filed by the person who is supposedly the real victim – the ‘owner’ of the box?
• Why did the prosecutor drop the investigation into the whale meat scandal on the same day Junichi and Toru were arrested?
• Why are there three judges instead of the usual one?
• If this is a trial about a ‘theft’, then:
- Why are there three judges instead of the usual one?
- Why were there extended raids on Greenpeace offices by upwards of 70 police officers?
- Is this not overkill for a box of whale meat the prosecutor alleges to be worth no more than $500 US dollars?
• If the crime was so minor, why was bail set at 4 million yen (around $45,000 US dollars, or roughly 10 times what the box of meat was allegedly worth according to the prosecutor)?
• Why does the government prop up a programme that is:
- harmful to Japan’s international reputation
- environmentally unsustainable
• Why does it turn a blind eye to apparent unlawful practices?
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Image credit: Tobias Akerboom (at hutmeelz)