8 Jul 2010

Suspended sentence for anti-whaling activist

5:59 am on 8 July 2010

The anti-whaling activist Pete Bethune will return to New Zealand by the end of the week, after been given a suspended sentence by a court in Japan.

Bethune was taken into custody after boarding a Japanese whaling vessel in Antarctica in February.

He said he boarded the ship to make a citizen's arrest of its captain, after an earlier collision with his own vessel. He admitted four charges, including vandalism and carrying a knife, but denied a charge of assault.

On Wednesday, a Tokyo court sentenced Bethune to two years in prison, suspended for five years.

One of his lawyers, Dan Harris, says he considers the sentence very lenient. "If you're going to convict someone on five counts including assault, obstruction of business and trespassing, you'd expect that the person would serve real jail time," he said.

"I think Japan did act leniently, but I think they acted that way not out of sympathy but out of fear."

The chief judge in the court told Bethune his actions on the high seas against the Japanese fleet were reckless, the ABC reports.

Bethune had been planning for a party

Bethune's wife said before the verdict was announced he was so confident of avoiding a jail term, he had been planning a party in Auckland for the weekend.

Sharyn Bethune told Checkpoint she was initially stunned at hearing of a two-year jail sentence, but that quickly turned to relief when it was revealed the sentence was suspended.

Mrs Bethune says she hopes he will not board any other whaling vessels in future, and instead turn his attention to other conservation activities.