Kushiro (Japan): Japan began its first commercial whale hunts in more than three decades on Monday, brushing aside outrage over its resumption of a practice that conservationists say is cruel and outdated. Five vessels from whaling communities left port in northern Japan’s Kushiro with their horns blaring and grey tarps thrown over their harpoons. By Monday afternoon, a first whale had been caught and was being transported back to shore. The hunts come after Japan decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, a move slammed by activists and anti-whaling countries but welcomed by Japanese whaling communities. Also Read – Turkey preparations for Syria offensive ‘completed'”My heart is overflowing with happiness, and I’m deeply moved,” said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, addressing a crowd of several dozen politicians, local officials and whalers in Kushiro before the boats left. “This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my home town.” Whaling vessels were also leaving Monday morning from other ports including in Shimonoseki in western Japan. Also Read – Imran Khan arrives in China, to meet Prez Xi JinpingThe country’s Fisheries Agency said Monday it had set a cap for a total catch of 227 whales through the season until late December— 52 minke, 150 Bryde’s and 25 sei whales. “I’m a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling,” 23-year-old Hideki Abe, a whaler from the Miyagi region in northern Japan, told AFP before leaving. “I don’t think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat any more. I want more people try to taste it at least once.” Whaling has long proved a rare diplomatic flashpoint for Tokyo, which says the practice is a Japanese tradition that should not be subject to international interference. As an IWC member, Japan was banned from commercial hunts of large whales, though it could catch small varieties in waters near its coastline. But it also exploited a loophole in the body’s rules to carry out highly controversial hunts of whales in protected Antarctic waters under the banner of “scientific research”. Activists said the hunts had no scientific value, and Japan made no secret of the fact that meat from whales caught on those hunts ended up sold for consumption. Humane Society International slammed the resumption of commercial hunts. “This is a sad day for whale protection globally,” said the group’s head of campaigns Nicola Beynon, accusing Japan of beginning a “new and shocking era of pirate whaling”. With its withdrawal from the IWC, Tokyo will carry out whale hunting off Japan, but will end the most controversial hunts in the Antarctic. “The resumption of commercial whaling has been an ardent wish for whalers across the country,” Shigeto Hase, the head of Japan’s fisheries agency, said at the departure ceremony in Kushiro. He said the resumption of commercial whaling would ensure “the culture and way of life will be passed on to the next generation”. Whale meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-World War II years in Japan, when the country was desperately poor. Most reports suggest consumption has declined significantly in recent decades — with much of the population saying they rarely or never eat whale meat — and activists have pressed Japan to ditch the practice. But a Japanese government official said “demand has been stable”. “It is totally false that commercial whaling will not be viable as demand is declining,” he said. Some believe that Japan’s return to commercial whale hunting will effectively sound the death knell for the industry. “Japan is quitting high-seas whaling… that is a huge step towards the end of killing whales for their meat and other products,” said Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
A confidential government document, accessed through the Right To Information (RTI), described the unprecedented number of appeals from across the world as an “orchestrated campaign” by cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and sympathizers against the execution of the Supreme Court’s 1999 order sentencing them to death. A confidential Indian government document has said that an “orchestrated campaign” by the LTTE helped delay the execution of the assassins of former Indian Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.The Times of India reported that three Rajiv Gandhi assassins have opposed the execution of the death sentence awarded to them by pointing to the 12 year-lag between the Supreme Court’s confirmation of the high court’s order to send them to the gallows and the rejection of the mercy petition by President. The death sentence awarded to Nalini, another accused in the case, was commuted to life in April 2000 by the Tamil Nadu governor on the ground that she had a young child. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was among those who had sought clemency.The announcement of death penalty led to the European Union issuing a demarche to the Indian government. Tamil and human rights groups lobbied France, South Africa, Germany, Denmark, UK MPs, the Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore as well as Indian ministers for not carrying out the death sentence. Rashtrapati Bhavan was bombarded with clemency pleas.It was against such a backdrop that President K R Narayanan did not take up the clemency pleas in 1999. It was only in August 3, 2011 that clemency pleas were turned down by then President Pratibha Patil. Immediately afterwards, the convicts moved court, successfully stalling the execution by citing the delay in the implementation of the apex court’s 1999 order. Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan later cited the delay when they submitted their mercy petitions to the President, seeking commutation of their death sentence to life. Their writ petitions are now with the Supreme Court.A close scrutiny of documents accessed under RTI, in response to a plea filed by activist S C Agrawal, shows that the 1999 verdict led to international and domestic pressure on the government. In February 2000, the EU Troika head of mission in Delhi issued a “confidential demarche” and requested the President to commute the sentence of the four persons to life. Among the other petitioners who sought death penalty waiver were NGOs like Campaign against Death Penalty, Dravidians for Peace & Justice, South Africa chapter, South African Tamil Federation, The World Saivite Council, the South Indian Foundation and the Federation of Tamil Associations in France.British member of Parliament from Brent North Barry Gardiner sought to draw a parallel with Guru Hargobind’s incarceration by Mughal rulers in Gwalior fort in the 17th century. Gardiner said that the Guru’s imprisonment came from his insistence on religious freedom for his people and even the emperor Jahangir eventually agreed to release him on Diwali. Others quoted Gladys Staines who forgave those who murdered her husband and children.Among the political leaders who petitioned for the four were MDMK’s Vaiko and SAD’s Simranjit Singh Mann. Rev Dr Arul Das James, Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, and Baba Amte also supported clemency while the then minister of state for petroleum and natural gas E Ponnuswamy forwarded a plea as well. From the judiciary, V Krishna Iyer and Justice Hosbet Suresh also submitted pleas to Narayanan. The high-decibel campaign reflects the effectiveness of the Tamil diaspora and their sympathy for the killers of the former prime minister. The number of petitions seeking clemency for the four accused was so high that in December 1999, the MEA in a note said, “The government has received numerous petitions calling for setting aside of the death penalty awarded to four persons accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Most of the petitions seem to be part of a campaign orchestrated by the LTTE cadres/supporters/sympathizers and human rights groups opposed to death penalty. EU Ambassadors in Delhi have also made demarche to the government. A communication on the subject has also been received from the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary and arbitrary execution. The purpose of this communication is to provide sufficient background material to rebut any negative media coverage and to respond to any queries on the subject.” But it was not as if the rejection of mercy petition was without support. Tamizhanga Rajiv Congress, All India Rajiv Gandhi Brigade and Subramanian Swamy from Janata Party were among the supporters of the hanging, the The Times of India reported. Behind this argument, it turns out, is a well-organized campaign by LTTE cadres, sympathizers and human rights groups opposed to death penalty who could well have been the reason for the delay in the first place.