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PM steering clear of judging Bethune sentence

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

By Chris Ormond and Kate Chapman of NZPA

Wellington, July 7 NZPA - Prime Minister John Key has stopped short of commenting on the sentence handed down to anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune but says it would have come as a huge relief to him and his family.

In Tokyo today Bethune was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for five years, for obstructing the activities of a Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic Ocean.

He has been held in custody since February after he boarded the Japanese whaling fleet's security ship the Shonan Maru II during its annual whaling hunt in southern waters. That ship and Bethune's powerboat Ady Gil had the previous month collided during a skirmish, and the latter ended up sinking after being smashed in half. Bethune boarded the Japanese ship to try to seek compensation.

Mr Key said, as was the case with New Zealand judicial decisions, the Government would not pass judgment on today's sentence.

"But at the end of the day there is now a situation where Pete Bethune is returning home. For him he doesn't have to spend time in a Japanese prison and whatever his motivation is for the particular incident, he is going to be relieved..."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman told NZPA it was great that Bethune would be returning home rather than facing a stretch in a Japanese jail, and that the government there had probably saved face.

"I think the Japanese government is well aware that if they locked up Pete he would become an international martyr for the environmental movement and they would have people all over them."

He said it was disappointing the New Zealand Government had not pursued an investigation into the collision and tried to extradite the captain of the Shonan Maru II.

Maritime New Zealand is investigating the incident but there is no indication of when an outcome might be reached.

Dr Norman said Bethune had been doing what the Government was failing to do. "We are supposed to be a whale sanctuary, there is supposed to be a moratorium on commercial whaling. The Japanese have been caught red-handed selling the meat -- it's appearing all around the world..."

Despite that, the Government wasn't sending ships to the Southern Ocean to try to force the moratorium and was yet to commit to joining Australia in pursuing action through the International Court of Justice. Meantime, Japan is likely to continue whaling under the guise of research.

Mr Key said the whaling situation had been tense and that was why New Zealand preferred pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Those attempts stalled indefinitely after an International Whaling Commission meeting failed to get a compromise last month.

Mr Key said it would be at least a year until such talks resumed and "cool heads" needed to prevail in the meantime as there was a real risk of death if clashes in the Southern Ocean continued.

Labour's conservation spokesman Chris Carter also welcomed the news that Bethune would return home.

"I am a long-standing critic of Japan's whaling policy," he said. "However, I applaud the Japanese justice system for its humane approach, which has recognised that Peter pleaded guilty to the charges he was facing in Tokyo but has not acted like a terrorist or a hijacker."

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