Global General

Japan court convicts NZ anti-whaling activist

Updated: 2010-07-07 13:59
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TOKYO - A Tokyo court on Wednesday convicted a New Zealand activist of obstructing the Japanese whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean, sentencing him to a suspended prison term.

Peter Bethune was also found guilty of assault for throwing bottles of rancid butter at the whalers aboard their ship, including one that broke and gave three Japanese crew members chemical burns.

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The court sentenced him to two years in prison, suspended for five years - meaning he won't be jailed.

Bethune, 45, climbed onto the Shonan Maru 2 in February to confront its captain over the sinking of a protest vessel the previous month. The former Sea Shepherd activist was arrested when the boat returned to Japan in March.

The US-based Sea Shepherd has been protesting Japan's research whaling for years, often engaging in scuffles with Japanese whalers. The group claims the whaling mission, an allowed exception to an international ban, is a cover for commercial hunting.

Bethune's trial began in late May. During earlier trial sessions, he said he just wanted to confront the ship's captain and hand him a $3 million bill for the destruction of the Ady Gil, the protest ship that sank during a collision in January.

In his tearful closing statement June 10, Bethune apologized for the trouble but said he never intended to hurt anyone. He also told the court that he will likely no longer continue his anti-whaling protests.

Sea Shepherd recently said it expelled Bethune because he violated its policies against carrying weapons. The group said he had a bow and arrows with him while he was aboard the Ady Gil, although he never used them.

Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt whales under exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Japan's whaling program also involves large-scale expeditions down to the Antarctic, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their coasts.

Separately, Japan has said the leader of Sea Shepherd is now on an Interpol wanted list for allegedly ordering Bethune as part of the group's disruption of Japanese whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.

Canadian citizen Paul Watson, 59, was placed on the Interpol list in late June at the request of Japan, which accuses his group of risking whalers' lives during their expedition.