Tokyo: Japan deported a New Zealand activist convicted of assault and obstruction after he attempted to stop the annual Japanese whale hunt.
Peter Bethune, 45, who clambered aboard a Japanese whaler in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean in February, was detained aboard the ship and arrested when it returned to Japan. Earlier this week, a Tokyo court sentenced the former member of conservation group Sea Shepherd to two years in prison but suspended the sentence.
On Friday evening, Bethune was escorted by immigration officers onto an Air New Zealand flight bound for Auckland.
Japan each year hunts hundreds of mostly minke whales — which are not an endangered species — in Antarctic waters. U.S.-based Sea Shepherd has been actively protesting Japan`s whaling trips for years, often scuffling with whalers at sea.
Japan conducts whale hunts in the region as part of a research program, an allowed exception to an international whaling ban. But Sea Shepherd and other critics say it is a cover for commercial whaling, noting nearly all the meat ends up in restaurants.
Bethune was convicted of several offenses, including assault for throwing bottles of rancid butter at whaling ships, trespassing, vandalism and possession of a knife. He slashed a protective net around the Shonan Maru 2 with a knife to board the ship from a Jet Ski.
In a tearful closing statement at his trial in June, Bethune apologized for the trouble and said he never intended to hurt anyone.
During earlier trial sessions, Bethune said he just wanted to confront the Japanese ship`s captain and hand him a $3 million bill for the destruction of the Ady Gil, a Sea Shepherd vessel that sank when the two boats collided in January.
Sea Shepherd announced during the trial it would not let Bethune participate in further protests, but said Thursday that was a tactic to help him avoid prison time and he`s free to rejoin.
Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt whales under exceptions to a 1986 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Japan`s whaling program involves large-scale expeditions to the Antarctic Ocean, while other whaling countries mostly stay along their own coasts.
Confrontations between Sea Shepherd boats and Japanese vessels have at times turned violent. Activists try to obstruct whaling ships by cutting them off, dangling ropes in the water to snarl their propellers, or throwing containers of rancid butter. The whalers have responded with water canons and sonar devices to disorient the environmentalists.