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Whaling row turns to Tokyo court

Published: 12:54PM Friday April 02, 2010 Source: ONE News

Anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune could be facing up to 15 years in prison over his boarding of a Japanese whaling ship.

Japan is laying five charges against the protester - the most serious for causing bodily injury.

Bethune's risked life and limb campaigning against Japan's whalers and that fight has seen him locked up in Tokyo for 20 days without charge.

"He is in the maximum security prison at the moment which houses murderers, rapists and people like that...but he is kept pretty much on his own," says his wife Sharyn Bethune.

"He has three meals a day of cabbage soup and rice and he says he is very very sick of cabbage."

But it's a diet Bethune may have months or even years to get used to as Tokyo's Coastguard presses serious charges against the sailor for boarding the Shonan Maru 2.

Prosecutors will formally indict him for trespass; carrying a knife (which prosecutors will say was found in his boot); damaging property (for cutting a guard net to board the vessel) and forcible obstruction of business despite the activities being for non-commercial "scientific whaling".

But most serious is the charge of causing injury which comes with a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The injuring charge relates to an incident three days before the powerboat Ady Gil and the whaler collided . Japan's coastguard alleges Bethune fired a rancid butter stink bomb which injured a crewman.

Sea Shepherd claims the whaler hurt himself trying to shoot pepper spray at protesters.

"The one that they are trying to get him on is assault is the one he is definitely sure he did not commit -he did not assault anyone," says Sharyn.

And Bethune's father Don says "it's quite clear that they're trying to make an example out of him to discourage anybody else". And he says the New Zealand attitude is "somewhat gutless".

Don Bethune thinks his son would stand a better chance in court if the government had stood by him.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully says maritime officials are undertaking a thorough investigation and he says he will be very concerned at any unduly harsh charges laid against Bethune.

McCully says he is uneasy about the reports and the New Zealand government is yet to receive confirmation of the charges laid by Japanese authorities. He says Bethune is yet to appear in court and he's still waiting for confirmation from authorities as to the nature of the charges he is facing.

McCully says our government is unlikely to interfere in Japan's legal process.

Bethune's lawyer Dan Harris says it's potentially a very serious situation and a bad look for Japan. He says he is surprised the charges have been brought and could put Bethune behind bars for years.

Harris is calling the situation absurd, saying there is no foundation to the charges and Bethune will defend them vigourously.

Harris says he's disappointed with the Japanese government and it seems like a show, rather than a legitimate criminal trial. Harris says people should be unhappy with Japan's justice system as well as its whaling industry.

Meanwhile Bethune's wife is hoping for a speedy trial and hopefully deportation.