The first phase of Captain Pete Bethune's trial in Japan has ended and he remains both unbowed and in good spirits. Captain Bethune is being represented by a highly capable team of Japanese lawyers.
Though some in the media have written that Captain Bethune pleaded guilty to four out of five counts against him, this is incorrect, as Captain Bethune continues to maintain his innocence on all counts. He contested some of the facts claimed by the Japanese prosecutor, including, most importantly, that anyone on the Japanese vessel the Shonan Maru 2 was ever injured by anything done by anyone on a Sea Shepherd vessel. A crewmember from the Shonan Maru 2 claimed to have been injured by rancid butter tossed onto the Shonan Maru 2 by Sea Shepherd volunteers, but the evidence revealed that no doctor ever actually saw the alleged injury and there was no dispute that this crewmember was fine before his vessel ever arrived back in port.
Captain Bethune's overall defense is based on the illegality of whaling and on the United Nations World Charter for Nature authorizing private organizations like Sea Shepherd to engage in government-like activities to protect the environment. The Shonan Maru 2 was engaged in illegal whaling and Captain Bethune's actions against that vessel were the equivalent of a coast guard acting to stop it.
On the first day of the trial, Captain Bethune's lawyers and the prosecutor read their opening statements, and one crewmember from the Shonan Maru 2 testified regarding what he had seen. On the second day of the trial, a crewmember from the Shonan Maru 2 testified regarding a minor three-day skin rash on about a one-inch patch of skin he attributes to rancid butter used by Captain Bethune. A doctor who never actually saw this crewmember (because his injury did not even warrant an in-person visit) testified that the injury could have been caused by rancid butter. Sea Shepherd has a strict policy against violence, and in its more than thirty years of operation, has never injured anyone.
Captain Bethune testified all day on the third day of trial as to why he had done what he did. He talked about his anger at the Japanese whalers killing whales in international waters. As Captain Bethune put it, "They are coming into my backyard and killing what belongs to all of us."
The trial will resume on June 10th, at which time Captain Bethune's attorneys and the prosecutor will read their closing statements. Captain Bethune himself will also read a statement in Japanese - intended for the court, the world, and, in particular, the Japanese people. It was entirely Captain Bethune's idea to read his statement in Japanese; he wants to do that as a sign of respect for the Japanese people. It is important to him that Japan understand that neither he nor Sea Shepherd has ever had any problem with Japan or its people. The actions of Captain Bethune and of Sea Shepherd are designed to end whaling wherever it may be happening. The issue is whaling, not Japan.
After the June 10th hearing, the three judges in charge of trying Captain Bethune are expected to take anywhere from one to four weeks to issue their verdict and sentence, if any. Sea Shepherd's fervent hope is that the judges will realize Captain Bethune violated no laws and will release him immediately. He has been in a Japanese jail since March 12th and he was held in custody on the Shonan Maru 2 prior to that, totalling well over 100 days in captivity to date. The Japanese Coast Guard continues to refuse to investigate the Shonan Maru #2's intentional sinking of the Ady Gil (the ship that Captain Bethune was at the helm of) or even to cooperate with the ongoing investigations of the New Zealand and Australian maritime authorities.
Visit our Support Captain Bethune page for background on the situation and donation information.