A New Zealand human rights lawyer is taking on human rights in Japan, in a controversial criminal case involving the whaling industry, Greenpeace employees and an allegedly stolen box of whale meat.
Teall Crossen is defending Toru Suzuki and Junichi Sato, two Greenpeace Japan employees charged with theft and trespass.
Now known by the media as the "Tokyo Two," they were arrested in June last year after intercepting a box of what they claim was stolen whale meat and taking it to the police, in an effort to expose what they claim is corruption and embezzlement widely occurring in the Japanese whale meat industry.
Crossen told Lawyers Weekly she was working with Greenpeace International to defend Suzuki and Sato in a bid to also protect human rights "We are pleading not guilty and asking for an acquittal based on the right to freedom of expression," she said.
"Japan is party to the International Covenant of human rights," added Crossen. "International law in Japan is directly applicable. We're arguing that the court must listen to these arguments about freedom of expression, and they should find them innocent based on these arguments."
The two accused could face a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, while a criminal conviction for Greenpeace Japan could see the organisation stripped of its not-for-profit status, because it would be seen as being linked to criminal activity.
Crossen said the case was complicated, particularly given pre-trial formalities that are unique to Japan, an unknown trial date, and the general opinions of the Japanese public that are not favourable to the two accused.
"The fact they are seen to be guilty also impacts on the reputation of the organisation Greenpeace Japan," added Crossen. "Because they have two employees who are said to be guilty, so people associate Greenpeace Japan as an organisation with criminal connections," she said.
And although the case fundamentally involves what might usually be considered relatively minor criminal offences, it is attracting some considerable attention from the international community, as well as human rights organisations, lawyers and academics.
- Angela Priestley
See more on this story in next week's edition of Lawyers Weekly.