against me is all lies, says whaling activist on trial in Japan
Bethune with the powerboat which became the Ady Gil, which was fuelled by
natural fats. It was sliced in half by the Shonan Maru No 2
at sea, taken to Tokyo in handcuffs and now facing a possible 15-year jail
sentence for trying to stop Japan's annual whale cull, Peter Bethune has
become a controversial hero of the environmental movement. But in Japan,
where he is on trial for boarding a whaling ship and assaulting a crew member,
he is despised and harangued by nationalists, who call him an eco-terrorist.
is accused of throwing an acid similar to rancid butter, and injuring a
member of the crew of the Shonan Maru No 2 that collided with his powerboat
a month earlier during clashes in the Antarctic Ocean. The New Zealander's
trial is the first in Japan against a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservationist
Society, a direct action group founded more than 30 years ago in the US,
and has attracted huge media attention.
ultra-nationalists have picketed his daily court appearances and staged
noisy protests outside the New Zealand and Australian embassies in Tokyo.
Some called for Mr Bethune to be "hanged" and for Japan to go
to war with Australia over its whaling stance. Australia announced this
week that it is upping the ante in the anti-whaling battle by following
through on a long-standing threat to take Japan to the International Court
of Justice in The Hague.
and New Zealand accuse Japan of commercial whaling in what both countries
consider a whale sanctuary. Tokyo calls the annual cull "scientific
whaling" and says neither country has any legal claim over the southern
oceans. Against this backdrop, Mr Bethune, from New Zealand, told The Independent
that much of the evidence against him is an "orchestrated litany of
lies" and described his trial as "judicial rape".
has been this procession of rehearsed statements from their side,"
said Mr Bethune, flanked by a prison guard during an interview in the bunker-like
Tokyo Detention centre. "You're not allowed call anyone a liar in the
courtroom here but they're lying."
militant activist has admitted charges including trespassing and disruption
of commerce but denies assaulting a crew member of the Shonan Maru No 2
with a bottle of butyric acid.
week the whaler testified that he needed a week of medical treatment after
the substance splashed him on the face. Bethune accepts he threw it, but
said it could not have harmed the whalers. The prosecution showed a damaging
video shot by the whalers that appeared to show him whooping with delight
after throwing the acid, which is said to be a type of stink bomb.
whalers had visors covering their faces, so how could our acid thrown from
18m away have travelled up under the visors? They injured themselves with
their own pepper spray," he said. "They're hunting whales in my
backyard. They've got no right to be there and like a lot of people I find
it deeply offensive."
accuse Mr Bethune of conspiring with other Sea Shepherd members, including
leader Paul Watson, of Canada, to "sabotage Japanese whaling in the
who is not before the court, said that Mr Bethune "is being used as
a political football by right-wing nationalists in Japan".
is expected to be found guilty of the assault charge despite weeping in
court last week and saying he had no intention of hurting whalers. Japanese
courts boast a conviction rate of more than 99 per cent and if found guilty
he faces a maximum of 15 years in prison.
observers say a custodial sentence is likely, despite the publicity it would
hand to Sea Shepherd. "I think I'll get a maximum of two to three years,"
predicts Bethune. I'll be disappointed but I'll accept it. I'm just standing
up for what I believe in.
me, being charged with disruption of commerce is a badge of honour. We slowed
them down and cost them a lot of money. But I totally deny the assault charge.
I regret the acid and the fact that it got me into trouble."
was captaining the powerboat Ady Gil in January when it was sliced in half
by the Shonan Maru No 2 in what Sea Shepherd calls a deliberate attack.
He climbed aboard the Japanese vessel the following month, intending, he
says, to arrest its captain for attempted murder and bill him for the sinking
of his ship, but was himself arrested and taken back to Tokyo for trial.
prosecutors say he was showboating for cameras that were making a documentary.
aim was to make life awkward for them," insists Mr Bethune. "We've
succeeded. This has caused enormous damage and extreme embarrassment to
organisations have campaigned against the Japanese fleet for more than 20
years, leading to reduced catches and sparking an angry backlash by the
large-scale whaling came to an end with the 1986 ban on commercial whaling,
Japan has remained one of the three countries that has carried on killing,
along with Iceland and Norway.
its hunting "scientific research", Japan has often killed more
than 1,000 whales a year. In 2008, Japan's fishing fleet came back with
only just above half of its target number, in part because animal rights
activists, including Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, targeted the whaling voyage.
and its pro-whaling allies are preparing what has been called a compromise
deal for this month's annual International Whaling Conference in Morocco,
which could finally allow a return of limited commercial whaling, in return
for reduced catches and more monitoring, the first since the 1986 moratorium.
Opponents say there is no guarantee that quotas would be respected.
By David McNeill in