Anti-whaling activist pleads guilty in Tokyo trial

Updated: 2010-05-27 11:11
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TOKYO - A anti-whaling activist from New Zealand who boarded a Japanese whaling ship as part of a protest in February pleaded guilty Thursday to trespassing, destruction of property and other charges.

Sea Shepherd activist Peter Bethune admitted in a Tokyo court that he climbed aboard the Shonan Maru 2 in Antarctic seas and pleaded guilty to two other criminal counts - illegal possession of a knife and obstruction of business - but said he believed he had "good reason to do so."

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He denied a fifth charge of assault.

If convicted, Bethune could face up to 15 years in prison.

Bethune, 45, has said he wanted to make a citizen's arrest of the Japanese captain and handed over a $3 million bill for the destruction of a protest ship that sank after a confrontation with Japanese whaling vessels a month earlier.

Prosecutors say Bethune, while conspiring with unidentified fellow activists, threw glass bottles containing rotten butter at the Japanese boat, causing them to explode, splashing a crew member in the face and slightly injuring him and obstructing the whaling mission.

Bethune is also accused of slashing the ship's protective net with a knife that he illegally carried with him when he sneaked on to Shonan Maru 2.

"I admit that I boarded the Shonan Maru 2 but I believe that I have good reason to do so," he said during the proceedings. "I admit that I fired the butyric acid, but there were additional circumstances that we will discuss in court."

Bethune was brought back from the southern seas aboard the Shonan Maru 2 and arrested in March immediately after he set foot in Japan, and has since been in custody at Tokyo's main detention center.

Confrontations between Sea Shepherd boats and Japanese vessels have at times turned violent, forcing Japan's Antarctic mission in recent years to return home with only half its catch quota of some 900 whales.

Japan joins Norway and Iceland in hunting whales under various exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Opponents call Japan's research whaling program a cover for commercial hunts and have singled it out for especially strong protests.The program also involves large-scale expeditions down to the Antarctic, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their coasts.

Excess meat is sold in Japan for consumption, available through limited outlets such as special whale restaurants and public school lunch programs.

In a bid to resolve a deep divide between pro-whaling nations and their opponents, the IWC last month issued a proposal that would effectively allow the whaling countries to resume commercial hunts, though under strict quotas set by the commission.

Japan accuses the conservationists of endangering lives of whalers and is also seeking to arrest Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson over his role in the Bethune case.