On Monday, two of the most committed activists I have ever known in Greenpeace get a verdict in their two-year-long trial in Japan. They are charged with stealing a box of embezzled whale meat, which they turned over to police as evidence of corruption in the Japanese whaling industry.
But what’s really on trial at this moment is Civil Disobedience itself in Japan. In a society obsessed with conformity, it was easy for corrupt government officials to turn Junichi and Toru into the bad guys, and reverse the focus of what should have been an investigation into decades of abuse of billions of yen in public funds into a trial about whether two activists stole a cardboard box.
But when I read stories like the one below, from Kyodo News, I know that regardless of the outcome of this trial, Junichi and Toru have already won. They have opened a discussion in Japan about the public’s right to know in a society in which corruption flourishes, and guilty or not guilty, they can hold their heads high that they have blazed a new trail in civil society. The victory may be long in coming, but it will come. Another activist, and another, and another, will follow their example and challenge the rules of the game. They’ve cracked the floodgates, and once those waters begin to flow, and the public begins to ask more questions of the fat-cat whalers and what they’re doing with Japanese taxes to support a whaling programme nobody wants, for science nobody needs and for whale meat nobody eats, whaling in Japan is doomed.
When I see the grace and courage with which Junichi and Toru, both fathers of small children, face the prospect of ten years in prison, I’ve never been prouder to wear the Greenpeace name. Show your support here and wish them strength and luck for the trial outcome on Monday.
Kyodo News on Civil Disobedience and the Tokyo Two:
The BBC‘s “Panorama” is an investigative news program with over a 50-year history. From amongst their cases, a co-worker informed me of the amazing 2003 televised report, “Secret Policeman,” that brought to light racial discrimination within the police department.
A reporter, concealing his identity, entered the police academy. Over the space of 7 months, he was able to record racially discriminatory comments using a hidden mic and camera.
Commendably, the reporter, at the end of his training, became a true policeman. However, perhaps because of some questionable conduct, he was arrested on charges of profiteering. He was suspected of unjustly receiving wages in the role of a policeman.
Despite the reporter‘s arrest, the BBC televised a 30 minute documentary, “Secret Policeman,” using the recorded footage. As a result, the discriminatory mindsets of the policemen currently in office were brought to light. The program invoked great repercussions. The police objected to the BBC‘s methods of data collection, but in the end, 10 officers resigned, and 10 others incurred punishment. The reporter was not prosecuted.
In this case, I think this is the result of the British citizenry judging that “the right to know” as a fundamental basis of democracy takes precedence. In Japan, the focal point might go in the direction of “is it alright to commit a crime in the name of journalism?” However, the U.K. citizenry judged that “this news contributes to the public good.” The reporter knew the grave risks of investigating a national organization. And even though he was captured, the BBC kept their journalistic stance of televising his findings. This can only be described as phenomenal.
The trial measuring Japan‘s awareness of “the right to know” is facing judicial decision before long in the Aomori district court. Two members of the pro-environmental group Greenpeace Japan are facing theft charges for stealing some whale meat that was in the process of being delivered.
The two members learned from former crew members of scientific whaling ships that “whalers are diverting whale meat into illegal channels for profit. Considering the fact that taxes are used for this enterprise, it‘s strange.” With comments like these, they started the investigation. Upon arriving at the port, the two members followed after the express home-delivery service the whalers had used, reaching a distribution center in Aomori. They carried off high-class “unesu” whale parts in a cardboard box, presenting it as evidence to the Tokyo District Prosecutor that the scientific whaling crews were committing systematic embezzlement.
However, the sailors were not prosecuted, while the two members were charged with theft and trespassing, and subsequently arrested and prosecuted. At the trial, it was asserted that the two did not take it for personal gain, and so not to treat it as theft. Rather, their conduct was to make it clear that a large amount of tax money is being wasted on scientific whaling, with rampant embezzlement.
Moreover, stories from the defendant, the prosecutor, and witnesses from both sides made clear the reality of the situation about scientific whaling. Concerning this, on the 23rd, the Tokyo Shinbun Newspaper made a detailed report. There were headlines such as “The trial of whale meat theft exposes horrifying realities; Scientific Whaling is diverting to illegal channels after all; Enterprises under the jurisdiction of FAJ are monopolizing?i.e., under an armed convoy of concessions.” Mixed with these were interviews with plaintiffs and scholars, it was an article of great interest that “smoked out” the problems with heavily subsidized enterprises, i.e., scientific whaling.
Greenpeace Japan‘s Executive Director, Hoshikawa Jun, said, “from the start, I got a strong sense from authorities that things like NGOs shouldn’t interfere with national policy.” There is also the comment that the members under trial aren’t reporters. However, the European Court of Human Rights say, “whether it’s journalists or NGOs, when observing governmental injustice, the precedent is to observe the same freedom of expression.”
The two men’s action, in which they risked their life only to receive an unfair prosecution, without a doubt contributed to the public good, just as the BBC‘s “Secret Policeman” did. I hope to observe the judgment on September 6th.
(2010.8.25 Kyodo News, The 47 Column Editorial Department, Funakoshi Mika)