September 6, 2010 / 10:13 AM / in 9 years

Greenpeace members convicted on Japan whale meat theft

TOKYO (Reuters) - Two Greenpeace activists were given suspended jail sentences in Japan Monday for stealing whale meat they said was going to be consumed illegally.

Japan, one of only three whale-hunting nations, has come under fire from environmentalists and foreign countries for its scientific whaling program, introduced in response to a commercial whaling ban under a 1986 moratorium.

A court in Japan’s Aomori city handed down a one-year jail term, suspended for three years, to Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki. Prosecutors, who could not immediately be reached for comment, had demanded 18 months in prison.

“This is an unfair decision on an act that revealed wrongdoing in a national business funded by tax,” Greenpeace Japan said on its website.

Sato and Suzuki took a box of whale meat from a shipping depot in northern Japan in 2008, which they said a crew member on a Japanese whaling research ship was sending home illegally.

The environmental group used the meat to complain to prosecutors that the members of the whaling crew had shipped whale meat for personal consumption, rather than selling it through official channels to pay back tax subsidies for the whaling program.

Prosecutors investigated and dropped the case brought by Greenpeace, saying they could not find any evidence of wrongdoing.

Sato and Suzuki are planning to appeal against Monday’s conviction, Greenpeace said.

Talks on replacing the moratorium with a controlled cull broke down at an international meeting on whaling in June, while Australia filed a complaint against Japan this year at the Hague world court to stop scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean.

Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Joseph Radford

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