05/27/2010, 00.00
JAPAN
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Activist against whaling risks 15 years in prison

Peter Bethune attacked a Japanese ship in Antarctic and wounded a sailor. Japan continues to hunt about 900 whales a year for "study" purposes. The meat is then sold to restaurants and school canteens. The International Commission on Whaling proposes a middle ground between environmentalists and traders.

Tokyo (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Peter Bethune, an activist belonging to the "Sea Shepherd " group who fight whaling, has pleaded guilty to various charges before a court in Tokyo, in what is the first lawsuit of this type in Japan against an ecologist.

Bethune pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a knife and obstruction of business, and that he boarded the the Shonan Maru 2 in Antarctic, throwing a butyric acid stink bomb, wounding a sailor. If convicted, Bethune risks 15 years in prison.

The process arises from the existing conflict between the " Sea Shepherds " and the Japanese fleet allocated to study whales in the Antarctic. The fleet – claiming purposes for study - has the right to hunt up to 900 specimens annually. The scientific and commercial reasons are mixed: the whale meat is later sold it to restaurants and school cafeterias in Japan.

Last January, Bethune’s catamaran - a futuristic and modern vessel - was cut in two by a whaler. The following month, the activist sought revenge by attacking the Shonan Maru 2. According to the Sea Shepherds, Bethune wanted to arrest the captain for attempted murder of activists and ask for compensation for the catamaran. But he was arrested on the Shonan Maru for damaging property, injuring a sailor, obstruction of business, assault and taken to Japan.

In 1986 the International Commission on Whaling (IWC,) established a moratorium on the killing of marine mammals, but Japan, Iceland and Norway have managed to wrest some concessions "for study", which are contested by activists. Last month, the IWC proposed a middle ground between those for and against hunting, allowing the hunting of whales, but under a strict control of quotas allowed for commercial purposes.

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