A Japanese Government
agency is suing British journalist Mark Votier for 10 million yen (about $95,000) and costs for releasing videos and photographs of harpooned Minke wales being slowly electrocuted by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Ocean.
It is believed to be the first time that any foreign journalist has been sued by the Japanese Government for any reason.
Votier will not defend the action, which is to be heard on January 19th in the Tokyo District Court.
"I decided that I was morally obliged to release the pictures and take the consequences"
pictures were taken in May, 1993, when Votier spent nearly six months with the Japanese whaling fleet on its hunt in Antarctica. He had been given permission to film by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which is an agency licensed and funded by the Japanese Government to kill whales for 'scientific research.'
The ICR has taken court action against Votier because it claims he breached an agreement not to film the 'unsightly tasks' of whaling, and not to broadcast any film without its consent. The films have been seen in at least 23 countries.
Votier was horrified by the slow electrocution of injured whales that had been harpooned , but were still alive. Because of his revulsion to the cruelty he felt compelled to release his film.
Said Votier, " Altogether I watched thirty harpoonings. In about 50 percent of cases, the whales were immobilized instantly, and shackled to the side of the catcher for transport to the whaling factory ship.
"But in the other 50 percent, the whales were only wounded. To immobilize them, they were dragged to the bows of the catcher vessel and speared with a lance containing a detachable electrode. The gunner then discharged 220 volts into the animal's body, in most cases causing it to react violently.
"The average immobilization time, on a conservative estimate is 8 minutes, However, I did witness one particularly botched electrocution which took 23 minutes.
"As I had also been concerned that some of the whales arriving at the factory ship processing deck were not dead, I decided that I was morally obliged to release the pictures and take the consequences from the ICR. Certainly, if I had not released the pictures I could not have lived with the decision."
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which helped organize the press conference, says the Japanese Government should be condemned world-wide for its court action against Votier.
"They are trying to stifle a basic human right-free speech. The Japanese Government and the ICR should be condemned internationally by other Governments for this court action. It is another attempt by them to hide the barbarity of their whaling, and particularly their cruel electrocution method" said Vassili Papastavrou, an IFAW marine biologist.
Minke whales are the first species hunted since commercial whaling resumed. About 30 feet long, the whaling industry previously considered minkes too small to use. The minke, however, is the only species of whale still present in large numbers.
Late last year, the Japanese whaling fleet began taking whales from inside the new Antarctic Sanctuary for Whales. The Japanese Government has authorized the catch of 440 Minkes this Antarctic summer (December 1995 to March 1996), a one-third increase over last year. About 220 of them will be electrocuted.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare supplied much of the background for this report
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