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Activists Freed; Time For Whaling Corruption Probe

Greenpeace: Activists released, Time To Investigate Whaling Fleet Corruption

International, 15 July 2008 -- The two Greenpeace Japan activists, arrested and charged for intercepting a box of whale meat illegally smuggled off the Japanese whaling fleet, have been released on bail, after 26 days in custody.

Late last evening, a panel of three judges in Aomori, Japan, granted the release of Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, after an attempt by the local prosecutor to appeal the same decision made earlier in the day. Only 10% of bail applications are successful in Japan. The two will be reunited with their families later today. Their trial date has not yet been set.

"We are extremely relieved that our two activists have finally been released. However, our biggest question remains unanswered: why did the Japanese Prosecutor drop his investigation into the compelling evidence of whale meat embezzlement by whaling crew members brought to him by Greenpeace?" said Frode Pleym of Greenpeace.

Earlier this year, working from information given by former and current employees of whaling fleet operator Kyodo Senpaku, Greenpeace tracked the offloading of smuggled whale meat from the factory ship Nisshin Maru destined for crew members' homes. One of four boxes destined for the same private address was intercepted and the contents checked. This box, containing up to US$3000 worth of prime meat, but labelled as containing "cardboard", was displayed at a press conference on May 15th, before being turned over to the Tokyo District public prosecutor, who suddenly dropped his investigation on June 10, the day the two activists were arrested.

"We call on the Government to reinstate its investigation into the corruption in the whaling fleet," said Pleym. "What Greenpeace has exposed points clearly to a very big scandal at Japanese taxpayers' expense and in clear breach of international rules concerning Japans so-called scientific whaling programme."

Since the two activists were arrested, there has been a growing outcry over their detention. More than 30 non-Governmental organisations have signed up to a statement of concern.

On Monday, Amnesty International sent a strongly worded letter to the Japanese Prime Minister demanding the release of Junichi and Toru. Nearly a quarter of a million people have sent a message to the Japanese Government calling for the two to be released and for a renewed investigation into the whale meat embezzlement scandal, this was backed by 35 protests at Japanese embassies and consulates in 31 countries.

***

GREENPEACE LETTER TO THE JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER

14 JULY 2008

Environmental activists must be treated in accordance with international law

Amnesty International has expressed its deep concern to the prime minister of Japan about the detention of two Greenpeace activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, who have been charged with theft and trespass.

Amnesty International said: "These two must be allowed to challenge their detention before an independent and impartial court in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness.

"It is imperative that their rights to freedom from arbitrary deprivation of their liberty are fully respected, in accordance with international human rights treaties to which Japan is a state party.

"We also ask that an independent, impartial and thorough investigation is begun into their arrests and that the findings of the investigation be made public."

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were arrested on 20 June; they were initially detained by Japanese prosecutors for 13 days on suspicion of trespass and theft. Their detention without charge or trial was extended by ten days. On 11 July, as the maximum period for their continued pre-charge detention was due to expire, they were charged with theft and trespass.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki are cooperating fully with the police and prosecution. They have provided written depositions to the public prosecutor, and voluntarily and proactively submitted relevant evidence. They acted with a view to raising public awareness around the Japanese government-sponsored Southern Ocean whaling programme, rather than for illegitimate personal gain, while working for a well-respected international organization.

"We are also concerned that their detention, the charges against them, and the police raids on Greenpeace's office and the homes of five of its staff are aimed at intimidating both activists and non-governmental organizations.

"We ask the Japanese prime minister to make a clear statement assuring human rights defenders, including environmental activists such as Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki and organizations such as Greenpeace, that their right to engage in peaceful activities without intimidation or harassment will be respected by the state, including the justice system."

ENDS

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