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Anti-whaling activist goes on trial in Japan

3 min

Peter Bethune (photo), an anti-whaling activist of the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has gone on trial in Japan, pleading guilty to four charges including trespassing after he boarded a ship of the Japanese whaling fleet in February.


AFP - An anti-whaling activist of the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society went on trial in Japan Thursday on charges stemming from clashes with harpoon ships in Antarctic waters this year.

New Zealander Peter Bethune, 45, was detained by whalers more than three months ago after he boarded the Shonan Maru II, the security ship of the Japanese whaling fleet, during its annual cull of the sea mammals.

Bethune pleaded guilty to four charges but denied a charge of assault.

The case throws a spotlight on whaling, which Japan defends as part of its culture and carries out under a loophole to an international moratorium that allows lethal "scientific research".

The Sea Shepherd group pursued and harassed Japanese whalers in Antarctic waters for months in the 2009-2010 season, a campaign which both sides say reduced the Japanese cull by several hundred whales.

Around 20 protesters, watched over by police, staged a noisy rally and waved signs saying "Hang terrorist Peter Bethune!" and "Destroy Caucasian discrimination against Japanese!" outside the Tokyo District Court.

Bethune faces five charges, including injuring a Japanese crew member with a projectile containing rancid butter, or butyric acid, during a February 11 clash between the Sea Shepherd group and Japanese harpoon ships.

He also faces a charge of obstructing business, for the group's campaign of harassment, and charges that stem from his boarding of the security ship on February 15 -- trespassing, property destruction and violation of the weapons control law for carrying a knife.

"Regarding the assault charge, I deny the charge," said Bethune, dressed in a suit and Japanese slippers, at the start of his trial.

"For the disruption of business, I admit that I fired the butyric acid but there were additional circumstances that we will discuss in court," he said.

He did not contest the three other charges.

"For the knife and cutting the net, I admit the fact," he said, referring to cutting a security net in order to enter the ship. "I admit that I boarded the Shonan Maru II. But I believe that I had good reason to do so."

If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in jail.

Bethune was the captain of the futuristic powerboat the Ady Gil, a kevlar trimaran which was sliced in two in a collision with the Shonan Maru II in January while carrying six crew, and which sank soon after.

The next month Bethune scaled the Japanese ship from a jet ski with the intent of making a citizen's arrest of its captain for the attempted murder of the Ady Gil's crew, and to bill him for the sunken vessel.

Instead, Bethune was detained by the whalers and taken back to Japan, where he was formally arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard on March 12.

Japan has also sought Interpol's help to arrest Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson for ordering his crew to harass the whaling ships.

Outside the court, one of the protesters, Shuhei Nishimura, said: "Peter Bethune is not like an ordinary criminal. To let him loose would be the same as letting loose a dog with rabies," he said to cheers from other protesters. "He will surely bite Japanese whenever he finds them."

The second and third hearings are set for Friday and Monday, and a verdict is expected later in June.


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