Something Smells Foul In Japan’s Criminal Justice System

15 July 2009

This post is just in from Junichi Sato. Junichi is one of the two Greenpeace activists known as the “Tokyo Two” that were arrested when they presented evidence of corruption in Japan’s whaling industry to Japanese authorities.

While Japan’s Criminal Justice System may look OK from a distance once you get close enough to smell and taste it for yourself, it becomes repulsively clear just how curdled and rotten it is.

Thanks to the way the police and the prosecutors treated us, Toru and I have been forced to smell and taste the foulness of the Japanese Criminal Justice System for the alleged “theft” of US$500 worth of whale meat.  To expose large-scale embezzlement within the Japanese whaling industry, Toru and I intercepted the box and handed it in to the Tokyo Public Prosecutor as evidence of a crime, asking for an investigation. However, the embezzlement investigation was quickly dropped and we were arrested instead, detained for 26 days and finally charged with “theft”.

So it is now, with much first-hand experience, that I can tell you exactly how badly the system stinks.

So far we have had four pre-trial conferences for our case. These are meetings between the judges, prosecutors and defendants prior to the public trial where decisions are made on how the public trial should be conducted. Evidence, witnesses, schedules and so on are decided. As you would assume, it’s critical for defendants to see all the evidence the prosecutors have so they can properly defend themselves. However, this is not possible in the Japanese system.

Here, prosecutors do not need to disclose all the evidence. They can simply pick and choose what they want to show to the defence team and the defendants. So if you are a clever prosecutor, you can hide evidence that could benefit the defendants. This is what is happening to us at the moment.

The prosecution has been very reluctant to disclose any evidence related to the embezzlement of the whale meat. In the beginning, police statements were not disclosed and neither was the complaint made by the crewmember who “owned” the box of embezzled whale meat we intercepted as evidence of the crime. The reason is obvious: the more evidence that is disclosed, the more we find out about the embezzlement. Some of this evidence has now been shown to us, but there is a lot more still being concealed.

Two days before the last pre-trial conference on 17 June, the judges trying the case directed the prosecution to disclose more evidence. While they did comply, the most important parts of the documents were obscured, completely covered with white ink!

When the defence team asked the prosecutors why the document was so heavily edited, the prosecution replied: “It is a voluntarily disclosure, so it’s my service to you.”

This is how committed the prosecution is to hiding evidence of the real crime in this case.

Defendants should have the right to see all the evidence behind the accusations. Our defence team is now preparing a document that requests the judges order full disclosure of all evidence. We expect a response before the next pre-trial in August, so we’ll keep you posted.

Again, thank you for your continuous support for the case.

With your support, we can get the truth of the whaling industry.


Junichi Sato

Junich Sato, Greenpeace Japan Campaigns Director