Tokyo radicals harpoon Bethune

01:00, May 28 2010

Protesters outside a Tokyo court wielded cans of whale meat, shouted slogans and waved placards as the trial of Hamilton sailor Pete Bethune began yesterday.

Mr Bethune, captain of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil, faces five charges relating to his solo boarding of the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru II in the Southern Ocean in February.

Mr Bethune's trial in the Tokyo District Court is scheduled for three days, finishing on Monday, before the judges meet on June 9 to summarise the case. The case will then be adjourned for the judges to deliberate, with a verdict expected in late June.

The 20 protestors declared Bethune a terrorist, and called for him to be hanged.

Placards read "Destroy Caucasian discrimination against Japanese!" and "shit retard".

Sea Shepherd's US-based spokeswoman Amy Baird said the protesters were "very radical and were not taken seriously by the Japanese public".


Don Bethune, Pete's Hamilton-based father, this morning echoed her view, saying the protesters were part of what one media outlet has described as "Japan's lunatic fringe".

"It doesn't suggest an informed (Japanese) public at all," he said of the protest.

Don Bethune was relying on media reports to keep up with developments in Tokyo, but he believed the entire context of the Shonan Maru II boarding would not be revealed in court.

The family did not have a representative in Tokyo, which was disappointing. But a school friend of his son's was visiting Pete.

And he took another swipe at the New Zealand Government, saying it had effectively washed its hands of his son's case and fate in a "petty" move to vote down a Labour motion calling on Japan to co-operate with the Maritime New Zealand investigation into the collision between the two vessels.

Miss Baird said there had been "a lot of mis-reporting in the media" of events in the Tokyo courtroom yesterday.

"Everyone is saying Pete pleaded guilty, and that's not actually how the Japanese legal system works," she said. "I don't believe it is a plea-based system.

"He conceded several of the facts of the charges laid against him – we know he boarded the Shonan Maru II – but he's not pleading guilty to the charges."

Bethune faces a possible 15 years in jail if convicted of five charges.

- With Agencies

Waikato Times