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Japan authorities indict New Zealand anti-whaling activist

[JURIST] Japanese authorities on Friday indicted a New Zealand anti-whaling activist in connection with boarding a Japanese whaling vessel as part of an anti-whaling protest in the antarctic seas. Tokyo District Public Prosecutors [official website, in Japanese] are bringing five charges [AP report] against Captain Pete Bethune - trespassing, assault, illegal possession of a knife, destruction of property, and obstruction of business. Bethune's charges [NYT report] stem from boarding the Shanon Maru II, a Japanese whaling vessel, in response to a January 6 collision with the anti-whaling vessel, the Ady Gil, which he captained. As a result of the collision, the bow of the Ady Gil was sheared off, and the crew was rescued by another ship. On February 15, Bethune allegedly approached the Shanon Maru II ship on a jet ski, cut through anti-boarding netting surrounding the ship, boarded the ship, and then presented its captain with a bill for $3 million in damage done to his ship. He was taken into custody and returned to Tokyo where he was arrested by the Japanese Coast Guard. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society [advocacy website], of which Bethune is a member, has criticized [press release] the indictment, saying the "charges are bogus" and that the group "questions the credibility of the entire Japanese judicial system for entertaining such absurdities." The group claims that Bethune is being held for "purely political reasons" in order set an example for anti-whaling activists. Bethune faces a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years for both the assault and the business obstruction charges and could face up to three years for the trespassing charge.

Whaling [Greenpeace backgrounder] is regulated by the 1946 Whaling Convention [text, PDF], and commercial whaling was outright banned in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) [official website]. The Japanese whalers defend [TIME report] their whaling as scientific research because they collect data on the whale's age, diet, and birthing rate, before packaging and selling the meat. The Japanese mostly hunt for mincke and finback whales, but have begun to hunt humpback whales, which have reached sustainable levels since being placed on the endangered species list in 1963. The whaling issue has been contentious, especially in Australia where it is a major political issue causing tensions [ABC News report] with its neighbor New Zealand.

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