Anti-whaling protester Peter Bethune has been slammed with five charges from Japan after an incident in February when Bethune attempted to stop Japanese whaling in the Antarctic earlier this year.
New Zealand - Japan is formally charging Sea Shepherd Captain Peter Bethune with trespassing, carrying a knife, damaging property, forcible obstruction of business and one charge of causing injury. Japan has accused Bethune of illegally boarding (trespassing) the Japanese ship, Shonan Maru II, which is where most of the charges stem. The latter charge arises from an accusation that Bethune threw a jar of butyric acid onto the deck of a Japanese whaling ship, causing an injury to a crew member. This is a very serious charge, and if found guilty, Bethune could face up to 15 years in Japanese jail.
Family and other organizations are rallying to Bethune's side. Bethune's father has said Japan is making his son a scapegoat, in an attempt to dissuade others from protesting the annual Japanese scientific whale hunt. The Sea Shepherd, the radical organization fighting the Japanese whaling, said Bethune is an international hero. Bethune was the Captain of the Ady Gil before the small boat was destroyed in a collision with the Shonan Maru II.
Portrayed as an eco-terrorist by the Japanese, Bethune is being held in Japan by the Coast Guard.
New Zealand's Green Party is critical of New Zealand's position, saying the country should do more to help Bethune, who is described by Sea Shepherd as a political prisoner. Sea Shepherd says Japan's justice system takes the approach of "guilty until proven innocent," and are lobbying for government intervention. Support for intervention by the government has also come from New Zealand's Labour Party.
Sea Shepherd claims that Bethune was merely boarding the Shonan Maru II to place the captain under citizen's arrest and to give him a bill for the Ady Gil. While the organization does not say how they deliver the butyric acid, they have admitted to using this tactic in the past. The smell released by the butyric acid deters normal routines on board the whaling ships. Butyric acid is actually a chemical component of butter and similar animal fats created when the fat begins to decay. The chemical can also be found in vomit.
The anti-whaling protest, which usually involves sometimes controversial methods of interference with the hunt, took a bad turn in January after the Japanese ran down the Ady Gil, an act Sea Shepherd says was deliberate. Japan blames the activists for the destruction of the boat.
Sea Shepherd had asked Australia to charge Japan for the destruction of the Ady Gil. While Australia has been quiet about this aspect of the whaling fight, Australia was threatening Japan with legal action over Japan's whaling activities, which are conducted for the purpose of scientific study.
Japan is facing criticism from environmental activists around the world after the nation persuaded other countries to abandon the protection of endangered species, such as the Blue Fin Tuna and the Polar Bear.
Japan is currently pushing for an end to the ban on commercial whaling.