Japan Hunts Activists


Tokyo - Japan on Monday put out international arrest warrants for three Western anti-whaling activists who tried to disrupt a controversial whaling expedition in the Antarctic Ocean in 2007, police said.

"It's natural to seek arrest warrants if it has been judged that a crime took place," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, the government's spokesperson.

"Whatever opinions they have about whaling, it is impermissible for them to take such violent measures which risk the lives of the people involved," he told reporters.

Police said Japan sent to Interpol with court approval the names of three members of the Sea Shepherd group - Jon Batchelor, 30, and Ralph Anthony Koo, 41, both from the United States, and Daniel Bebawi, 28, from Britain. Koo is suspected of hurling a warning flare into the Japanese ship in February in 2007, while the others are suspected of throwing a rope around the ship's propeller and blocking navigation, a police official said.

Interpol has the authority to send out a "red notice" which alerts all nations to be on the lookout for a suspect. But Interpol can refuse to send an alert if it is seen as politically motivated, according to the global police agency's website. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose headquarters is in the US state of Washington, has vowed to stop Japan's whaling, by force if necessary. It is currently fighting aggressively against Canada's slaughter of baby seals.

Japan in June arrested two members of the more moderate environmental group Greenpeace on allegations of theft after they took whale meat in an attempt to show corruption in the government-funded programme.

In a twist, Sea Shepherd earlier this month put out what it called its own warrant for the Japanese whalers, saying that the environmentalists would try to physically stop "illegal" whaling.

The Japanese government, which says whaling is part of the national culture, plans to kill around 1 000 whales a year using a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium that allows "lethal research" on whales. But Japan's Antarctic catch came to little more than half of that number last season due to harassment by activists.

In the latest season, Sea Shepherd activists hurled stinging acid at the whalers, lightly injuring three of them, and also hopped onto a Japanese ship, setting off a high-seas standoff. Japan has previously demanded that Australia, where Sea Shepherd had docked, take action against the activists.

Australia and most other Western nations have opposed Japan's whaling, arguing that it is inhumane and endangers a growing whale-watching industry.



From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann