Sea Shepherd defends expelling of activist on trial in Japan after criticism

By Yuri Kageyama, AP
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sea Shepherd defends decision to expel activist

TOKYO — U.S.-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd defended its expulsion of a member currently on trial in Japan over the boarding of a whaling ship, saying the decision upholds a nonviolence policy and may help him gain leniency in court.

Peter Bethune is accused of climbing aboard the ship in February, while it was in the Antartic Ocean. He is suspected of attempting to disrupt Japanese whalers, as part of the Sea Shepherd’s campaign to protest against the annual hunt.

Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson acknowledged the group received some criticism after its decision last week to kick out the New Zealander for having a bow and arrow with him while aboard the group’s protest vessel Ady Gil, which he he said was a violation of policy. The group, which often has scuffles with whalers, claims that its policy is “aggressive but nonviolent.”

Watson said in a statement Wednesday that the group will continue to help cover Bethune’s legal fees for his trial in Tokyo on charges of trespassing, vandalism, possession of a knife, obstructing business and assault.

Bethune pleaded guilty to all but the assault charge in last month’s opening session. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Watson also denied the charge by Japanese prosecutors that he had ordered Bethune to climb onto Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru 2.

He said the decision to expel him was “taken out of necessity both for Captain Bethune and for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.”

With Bethune telling the court that he doesn’t plan to return to Sea Shepherd’s campaigns, the judge will be more likely to release him, Watson said.

“Sea Shepherd is focused on getting Bethune out of a Japanese prison,” Watson said.

In a session later Thursday, prosecutors are expected to demand a penalty.

Sea Shepherd has routinely protested Japan’s whaling expeditions, which it carries out under exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. The Japanese government program involves large-scale expeditions down to the Antarctic.

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