Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whale Wars: Japanese Court Lets Sea Shepherd Activist Go Home

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whale Wars: Japanese Court Lets Sea Shepherd Activist Go Home

Article excerpt

A court in Japan gave Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune a suspended two-year jail term Wednesday. During last winter's annual 'whale wars,' he sneaked onto a whaling ship to try to arrest its captain for sinking the Ady Gil speedboat.

A court in Japan has given an antiwhaling activist a suspended two-year prison term after finding him guilty of disrupting the country's whaling fleet and assaulting a crew member during clashes in the Antarctic earlier this year.

The Tokyo district court also found Peter Bethune, a former member of the Sea Shepherd conservation group, guilty of trespassing, vandalism, and possession of a knife after he boarded the Shonan Maru 2 security vessel in February. Mr. Bethune, who had contested the assault charge, had faced up to 15 years in prison.

His supporters called the court's decision a response to mounting international condemnation of Japan's research whaling program and fears that the activist's imprisonment could become a rallying point for more protests.

Bethune will be deported to his native New Zealand on Friday, his lawyers said.

IN PICTURES: Antiwhaling

Speaking after the verdict, Mr. Bethune said, "I am very relieved and thankful at the decision from the Japanese court and immensely grateful to my legal team here in Japan.

"I am truly sorry for all the trouble and worry this has caused my family and am desperate to get back home to see them. I also want to thank all the supporters worldwide who have been sending messages and signing petitions, and the media, who have been keeping this story in the public eye."

Bethune, dressed in a black suit and carrying a note pad, showed no emotion when the verdict was delivered. Outside the court building, police scuffled with a handful of right-wing extremists who labeled the campaigner a terrorist and called for him to be hanged.

'Act of sabotage'

The court heard how, in February, Bethune had leaped aboard the Shonan Maru 2 from a jet ski under cover of darkness and cut the ship's security nets.

He had planned to carry out a citizen's arrest of the captain, Hiroyuki Komura, over the sinking the previous month of his high- tech speedboat, the Ady Gil, and to present him with a $3 million bill for the damage.

Instead, he was held aboard the whaling ship and arrested as soon as it returned to Japan in March.

The judge, Takashi Tawada, said Sea Shepherd had carried out "acts of sabotage" against the whaling fleet, adding that Bethune had "assaulted two crewmembers and interfered with their mission, with extremely serious consequences. His actions are based on his selfish beliefs."

The group said it was delighted with the verdict and described Bethune as a hero of the antiwhaling movement.

"Captain Bethune is an inspiration in courage and dedication, and his efforts, his sacrifice, and his resolve will not be forgotten," it said in a statement. …

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