This will be the first blog Toru and I have written together, as up until recently our heavy bail restrictions have meant that we could not be in the same room or even talk to each other without a lawyer present.
The verdict in our trial is approaching, and on Monday September 6 we will know what our fate is. We don’t really know what the result would be, all we know now is that it is going to show what the status of Japanese democracy is. It’s a long way from what started this case – our investigation to end Japan’s whaling.
In early 2008, following tip offs from a whistleblower and a four-month investigation into the embezzlement of whale meat by the crew of the Japan’s whaling fleet, we were closing in on evidence that could finally end this whaling programme.
Annual protest actions in the Southern Ocean have raised awareness and created international outcry about this destructive and completely unnecessary hunt, however, it was clear that the only place Japanese whaling would ever be ended was at home in Japan. When we intercepted a box of embezzled whale meat, we knew we finally had the evidence to prove the corrupt nature of the industry and shut it down by bringing an end to its huge taxpayer subsidies.
We knew the industry would not go quietly, we didn’t expect the harsh reaction that was to come.
At the start the media strongly covered the embezzlement scandal, and asked serious questions about the industry for the first time. However, one month after we exposed the large-scale theft of whale meat and embarrassed the authorities, they struck back, and had us arrested, interrogated, detained for 26 days and finally charged with “theft” and “trespass”.
The media were tipped off about out arrest and the raids of our homes, so when the images of our arrest appeared on national television the embezzlement scandal was dismissed and we were immediately seen as criminals by the public.
This has been our image for the last two years – until now.
In the last week alone we have seen three hugely positive articles appear in major newspapers around Japan. All of them detailed our trial and the flimsy, contradictory nature of the prosecution case against us, discussed the embezzlement and the rights of NGOs to expose wrongdoing, asked serious questions about human rights in Japan, and, finally, seriously questioned the legitimacy of the whaling programme.
We have come full circle and for the first time since the embezzlement scandal broke there is serious, positive discussion about the legitimacy of the whaling programme, and for once the arguments are not based on fisheries agency propaganda. Japanese society has changed and we are finding support wherever we turn.
On Monday the judges will hand down their verdict, and we are very much looking forward to it. We have proved our case, and anyone who looks at the facts with a clear mind can see that we should be acquitted, and that the official case simply does not stand up to even the most basic questioning.
That said, given Japan’s harsh 99.8% conviction rate, we understand that our chance of a good result is low, so while we are optimistic that we have advanced civil society and put whaling on trial both in court and in the media, we are also anxious about out fate.
Our families and friends are with us all the way. They can only accept an acquittal as they know we have committed no crime. They want us to fight as hard as we can, and were very happy to see the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary detention’s support for our case, but there is a definite feeling that our argument is ten-years ahead of Japanese society. This has been a difficult few years, and our actions have come at great personal cost, but we have to win for ourselves, for whales, for Greenpeace and for Japanese society.
We believe that this verdict is going to be a landmark for Japanese society. Aomori District court is being forced to make decisions in front of both the domestic and international audience whether Japan is ready to be a true democratic society, a society where citizens have the right to speak up in the public interests – or not.
Everyone we know is with us, and we could not have gotten this far without theirs and your support. We have finally kick-started the discussion about whaling, activism and civil rights that Japan desperately needs to have. Whatever happens on Monday, we know in our hearts that we did the right thing, and sooner or later, we will win this fight.
Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki
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