New Zealand native Peter Bethune was sentenced by a Japanese court Wednesday, after being found guilty of five different charges that were laid against him earlier this year.
Bethune was captaining the Ady Gil during attempts by the Sea Shepherd Society to interfere with Japans's whaling expedition in an Anarctic preserve earlier this year. After a serious confrontation that resulted in the destruction of the Ady Gil, Bethune boarded a Japanese ship to place the captain under citizen's arrest. Instead, Bethune was arrested and taken to Japan to face charges.
Bethune has been in Japanese jail since then, but he will be deported to New Zealand Friday. Bethune could have been jailed for 15 years. He had been convicted on charges of trespass, vandalism, obstructing commercial activity, being armed with a weapon and assault causing injury. In an attempt to mitigate the legal consequences for Bethune, Sea Shepherd told the Japanese court that Bethune was banned from further anti-whaling activities. The strategy might have worked, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bethune received a two year suspended sentence.
While Sea Shepherd maintains the Japanese captain of the Shonan Maru #2 should have been the person on trial, the organization is celebrating the fact that Bethune will be released from jail.
In Japan, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) and Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha issued a joint statement on the verdict, expressing pleasure for the conviction and calling for Sea Shepherd to be shut down. "... The verdict demonstrates that his actions put the lives of Japanese seamen at risk and he committed a crime.
Bethune’s criminal actions were perpetrated in disregard of a statement adopted at the IWC intersessional meeting in 2008, which called upon Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to refrain from dangerous actions that jeopardize safety at sea, and on its vessels and crews concerned to exercise restraint..."
The Japanese ICR conducts the whale "research" expeditions each year while the Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha provides the ships used for hunting the whales.
The head of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, called Bethune a hero, saying "Captain Bethune’s mission was successful. His efforts helped save the lives of 528 whales. He was able to take one of the harpoon vessels off the hunt when it was forced to return him to Japan. Most importantly, he exposed the brutality and illegality of the Japanese whaling fleet to the world. When you’re willing to risk your life to save the whales, five months as a Japanese prisoner is a good trade-off for the lives saved.
Captain Bethune is a hero to the Save the Whales movement and he will be welcomed home to New Zealand as a national hero for having the courage to do what his government was fearful of doing—defending whales from the Japanese poachers in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
Watson said that Bethune would not be rejoining Sea Shepherd this winter because of the ban, but said Bethune would be welcomed in the future. Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Watson said he'd banned Bethune from future anti-whaling expeditions as an attempt to help his case in the Japanese courts, saying the strategy was supported by the organization's lawyers. Watson said he had to ban Bethune because Bethune had brought a bow and arrow aboard, something not allowed by Sea Shepherd. Bethune's wife had alleged that Watson alienated Sea Shepherd supporters by banning her husband from future anti-whaling activities. [To access the audio file referred to at Radio New Zealand, click on "Sea Shepherd defends the decision to ban Peter Bethune (duration: 5′59″)" June 9, 2010]
Watson told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had already received about 2,000 applications from want-to-be crew members for the next season's anti-whaling mission.