Sea Shepherd captain faces jail time
New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune has been called a political prisoner by the Sea Shepherd organisation, after four extra charges were laid against him in Japan.
Mr Bethune, who is in custody in Tokyo after illegally boarding a Japanese whaling boat, faced a trespass charge after his arrest on March 12.
However, the Japan Coast Guard has now added charges of assault, illegal possession of a knife, destruction of property and obstruction of business.
The Coast Guard alleged he injured some of the crew by throwing bottles of highly acidic chemicals at the Japanese ship, Japanese NHK broadcaster said. The Sea Shepherd group said the projectiles were rancid butter stink bombs.
Assault and business obstruction charges carry a prison term of up to 15 years or a fine up to 500,000 yen ($NZ7260). Trespassing can bring a prison term of up to three years or a fine up to 100,000 yen.
"Sea Shepherd expected Capt Bethune to face a trespassing charge; this does not come as a surprise," members of the organisation wrote on the Sea Shepherd website.
"But all additional charges are being made for purely political reasons, to set an example of Capt Bethune for alleged actions that are absolutely trivial in comparison to those of the Shonan Maru No. 2-whose captain is not even being investigated by Japanese authorities after ramming and sinking another vessel at sea."
The New Zealand Government had been "surprisingly quiet" regarding Mr Bethune's arrest, the activists said.
Mr Bethune jumped aboard the Shonan Maru No 2 from a jet ski in February during Japan's annual whale hunt.
His ship, the Ady Gil, had earlier been run over and cut in two by the Shonan Maru No 2, and he had boarded the larger vessel to confront the captain and give him a bill for the damage.
Mr Bethune will be sentenced next month, having admitted some of the lesser charges.
Sharyn Bethune said tonight her husband thought the Japanese would "just smack him on the hand and send him back".
"But they've decided this time I think to make an example of him," she told 3News.
Deportation would be the best scenario, Mrs Bethune said.
She said his detention did not sound pleasant. "He said that he has two showers a week followed by a hot bath, that's a highlight. He has cabbage soup and rice probably three times a week."
Mr Bethune's US-based lawyer Dan Harris said the basis for some of the charges was unclear.
It was frustrating that Japan had overlooked what appeared to be the intentional sinking of the Ady Gil, Mr Harris told Radio New Zealand.
"Under international law, the Japanese maritime authorities are supposed to investigate major accidents at sea involving Japanese vessels, and near as we can tell they have completely ignored that law and done nothing in terms of investigating."
Japan's annual whale hunt is allowed by the International Whaling Commission as a scientific programme, although the whale meat is sold for eating.
An international moratorium was imposed on commercial whaling in 1986.