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Activists charged for exposing whale meat scandal

Activists charged for exposing whale meat scandal - Greenpeace denounces charges as disproportionate and politically motivated

Aomori, Japan, July 11th 2008 -- Two Greenpeace peaceful protestors have been charged with theft and trespass after they exposed a major scandal around the embezzlement of whale meat from the Japanese government-sponsored Southern Ocean whaling programme. The prosecutor in Aomori, Japan, today charged Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki with theft and trespass, following three weeks in police detention, despite widespread international protest.

The two activists were arrested on June 20th, more than a month after a Greenpeace investigation confirmed information from former whaling fleet employees that crew were smuggling whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru to their homes to sell for personal profit (1).

"From the beginning it has been clear that the arrest and detention and now the charging of the two activists has been politically motivated, and that powerful forces within the Japanese establishment are attempting to silence legitimate peaceful protest, in order to protect the so-called scientific whaling programme," said Gerd Leipold, Greenpeace International Executive Director. "It was more than simply a domestic police investigation into the alleged theft of the box; Junichi and Toru would not have been detained had they intercepted any other type of contraband and handed it to the authorities for investigation."

"We have exposed a scandal at the heart of the whaling programme, involving embezzlement of valuable cuts of whale meat, and we have highlighted the massive waste of Japanese taxpayers' money on the annual so-called scientific hunt in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary," he continued. "Instead of prosecuting peaceful protesters and those who exposed crimes within the whaling programme, the government of Japan should revoke all Southern Ocean whaling permits, release the activists and order an immediate and independent investigation into the embezzlement scandal."

After Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were arrested, they were held for three weeks without charge, despite having already offering to cooperate with any police investigation and having already submitted, under their own initiative, written statements about the undercover investigation, which revealed large-scale theft of meat from the tax-payer funded so-called scientific whaling programme.

Almost a quarter a million people have sent letters to the Japanese Government calling for the release of Junichi and Toru and to demand a full investigation into the whale meat embezzlement scandal. Protests have been held outside Japanese embassies in 35 cities across 30 countries. Nearly 30 environmental and human rights organizations have either put their names to an NGO statement of protest, or sent letters of support including Amnesty International, the Lawyers Network for Human Rights Observation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, InArticle 19, Transparency International, Oceana, Ubuntu, and Oxfam.. Ends.

(1) Earlier this year, working from information given by former and current employees of whaling fleet owner Kyodo Senpaku, Greenpeace tracked the offloading of smuggled whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru to crew members' homes. One of four boxes destined for the same private address was intercepted in order to verify the contents and establish the fraud. This box, containing up to US$3000 worth of prime meat, but labeled as containing "cardboard", was displayed at a press conference on May 15th, before being turned over to the public prosecutor. The public prosecutor suddenly dropped the investigation of the meat scandal the same day that Sato and Suzuki were arrested.

The "Stolen Japanese Whale Meat Scandal" dossier is available to download at: http://www.greenpeace.org/whale-meat-scandal

Greenpeace has carried out a series of activities at Japanese embassies around the world protesting the detention of Junichi and Toru. http://www.greenpeace.org/tokyo-two

Global protest over arrest of Japanese whale activists: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/news/free-the-tokyo-two-300608

The Statement of Concern and a list of environmental and human rights organizations who have signed it can be seen here: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/tokyo-two-statement-of-concer

ENDS

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