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Two environmentalists arrested for exposing alleged embezzlement in government-sponsored whaling programme

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Japan: ARTICLE 19 Calls for Release of Environmentalists

ARTICLE 19 condemns the arrest and prolonged detention without charge and without bail of two Greenpeace campaigners who exposed alleged embezzlement in the Japanese government-sponsored whaling programme in the Southern Ocean.

"The disproportionate actions of the authorities are clearly intended to stifle criticism of Japan's controversial whaling programme," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19. "These arrests can only discourage others from investigating and reporting on suspected irregularities in the use of public funds."

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were arrested sixteen days ago after Greenpeace published a dossier alleging that staff involved in the government-funded whaling programme were deriving personal gain from the embezzlement of valuable prime cuts of whale meat. Acting on information from a whistleblower, Greenpeace conducted an investigation over a number of months into activities onboard a factory ship used for what the government describes as scientific whaling. According to Greenpeace, after the ship returned to port, Sato and Suzuki removed a box of personal baggage addressed to the home address of one of its crew members from a depot, and discovered it contained 23,5 kg of whale meat worth up to US $3,000. After displaying the box at a press conference, it was presented to the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's Office on May 15 along with a criminal complaint.

On June 20, Sato and Suzuki were arrested on suspicion of trespass and theft of a box of personal belongings, the Greenpeace Japan offices were raided by some 40 policemen who confiscated the office server, and the homes of five staff members were searched too. On the same day, the Public Prosecutor dropped his investigation into Greenpeace's allegations.

ARTICLE 19 considers the disproportionate police action and ongoing detention without charge of the two campaigners is clearly intended to intimidate critics of Japan's whaling programme and calls for the immediate release of Sato and Suzuki and return of all confiscated property.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

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