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Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010
Rights of whistle-blowers
The Aomori District Court on Sept. 6 sentenced two Greenpeace Japan activists to a suspended one-year prison term, ruling that they broke into a cargo delivery depot in Aomori on April 16, 2008, and stole a 23-kg package of whale meat that a whaling ship crew member was mailing home to Hakodate, Hokkaido.
In the trial, the two activists argued that they only "took the package temporarily" to file an embezzlement accusation against 12 crew members of the whaling ship Nisshin Maru. In May 2008, Greenpeace Japan filed an accusation with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office against the crew members for allegedly embezzling whale meat from their employer, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd., after the whaling ship returned to Tokyo from a research whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean. Later it submitted the 23-kg package as evidence to the office. On June 20 that year, the police arrested the two activists and the prosecution decided not to take any action in the alleged embezzlement case.
In handing down the ruling, the presiding judge said, "Even if the defendants' actions were for the sake of serving the public interests, it is unacceptable for a person to infringe on another person's rights through actions that contravene the Penal Code."
Although Japanese public opinion was largely unsupportive of Greenpeace Japan, the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention told the Japanese government that the arrest of the two activists violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its written opinion said that the activists "sought to expose criminal embezzlement within the taxpayer-funded whaling industry" and that "citizens have the right to investigate and expose evidence on public servants suspected of corruption."
The defense counsel for the activists told the court that the investigative activities of nongovernmental organizations should be protected in the same way that the news coverage activities of media and journalists are. The Greenpeace Japan case offers a chance for the public and government to discuss the right to know and the freedom of expression from a new angle.