Since 2012, Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson has been battling Japan and Costa Rica for his freedom. Although the two countries are worlds apart and seem to have little in common, both have a history of supporting savage acts against marine life that have placed them at odds with Captain Watson and his defenders of the oceans. Pooling their political power, Japan and Costa Rica have succeeded in persuading INTERPOL to issue Red Notices against Captain Watson demanding his arrest and extradition in the hope that they can silence his voice and defeat his supporters by locking him away for good in a prison.
In May 13, 2012, German authorities arrested Captain Watson in Frankfurt on an international warrant issued by Costa Rica. Two days later, the Japanese authorities requested Captain Watson’s arrest and extradition in connection with an incident that occurred during Operation Waltzing Matilda, Sea Shepherd’s 2009-2010 whale defense campaign in the Southern Ocean. Captain Watson posted bail and departed Germany in July 2012. For more than a year, he lived as a fugitive on the high seas, until he was able to secure safe entry into the United States in late 2013, and later into France.
But as long as Captain Watson faces these politically-motivated and specious charges in both Costa Rica and Japan, his freedom will remain at risk. Sea Shepherd is actively helping Watson to battle these charges, and have the international warrants for his arrest removed, so that his powerful work on behalf of the world’s oceans will not be restrained.
Japan Seeks to Silence Captain Watson’s Opposition to Illegal Whaling
Japan’s charges against Captain Watson stem from Sea Shepherd’s opposition to illegal Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. On January 6, 2010, the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru No. 2 intentionally collided with and destroyed the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil, then carrying six crew members and captained by Pete Bethune. The collision sheared off the bow of the Ady Gil, endangering all of its crew and rendering the vessel helpless and unable to navigate. This event was well-documented on season 3 of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars.
One month later, Bethune used a pressurized firing device to shoot a glass bottle filled with butyric acid toward the Shonan Maru No. 2 from on board the Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker. The Japanese whalers claim the bottle struck the left side of the vessel’s bridge and shattered, injuring one or more crew members. Four days later, Bethune boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 in order to serve a citizens’ arrest warrant on the vessel’s captain for destruction of the Ady Gil. After boarding the vessel, Bethune was restrained by its crew and transported to Japan, where he was jailed and charged with five criminal offenses, including assault, trespass, and obstructing commercial activity.
Based on limited and faulty evidence, and ignoring facts that exonerate Captain Watson, the Japanese government issued an arrest warrant charging Captain Watson with conspiracy related to Bethune’s actions, with a possible sentence of up to 24 years in prison. The Japanese have refused to rescind this warrant even as it has become increasingly obvious that Captain Watson is innocent of any crime.
Costa Rica Pursues Captain Watson to Protect Its Illegal Shark-Finning Trade
Meanwhile, the Costa Rican government is pursuing a politically-motivated vendetta against Captain Watson related to his interference with the illegal shark-finning trade. In April 2002, Captain Watson was captaining the Sea Shepherd vessel Ocean Warrior when it encountered the Varadero I, a Costa Rican vessel that was conducting illegal shark-finning operations in Guatemalan waters. Under the authority of Guatemalan law, Captain Watson attempted to arrest the Varadero I, but the poachers broke free and fled toward Costa Rica.
Nevertheless, later that month the Costa Rican authorities filed a criminal complaint alleging that Captain Watson and his crew threatened and attempted to murder the seven crew members of the Varadero I, as well as damaging their vessel. This complaint was based on testimony supplied by the Varadero I crew. A local foundation offered Captain Watson local counsel, yet neither he nor his appointed counsel were provided timely notification about a preliminary hearing on the matter in December 2002. Although the allegations of attempted murder were later dropped, when Captain Watson did not appear for trial, the Costa Rican court declared him a “rebel” and issued a warrant for his arrest on the charge of “violation of ship traffic.”
This matter escalated on May 13, 2012, when German authorities arrested Captain Watson on this charge. Six weeks later, Costa Rica submitted a modified extradition request alleging “shipwreck endangerment and aerial disaster,” a far more serious offense typically associated with terrorism. In August 2012, INTERPOL issued a Red Notice on Captain Watson for the Costa Rican charge of “shipwreck endangerment.”
With two INTERPOL Red Notices hanging over his head, Captain Watson is living life as a hunted man until his name can be cleared. Originally fleeing to the ocean, Captain Watson was able to find refuge in the United States and later in France. But until the warrants against him are lifted, he will remain under threat of being extradited to spend years in a Japanese jail, and will not be truly free to continue to his important work on behalf of the world’s oceans.
To date, Captain Watson’s lawyers have been focusing their attention on resolving the legal situation in Costa Rica, filing a litany of documents in the Costa Rican and international courts in order to clear Captain Watson’s name. The going has been tough, but our efforts have had some success. In the first positive ruling on this matter in 13 years, the Costa Rican Constitutional Court agreed in a May 2015 ruling that Captain Watson was never informed of his right to consular assistance, and ordered the Criminal Court to pay damages to Captain Watson as a result. Captain Watson is requesting one million dollars in punitive damages and $50,000 in procedural damages.
On November 17th, 2015, Paul filed a full petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHRC) in Washington, D.C., accusing the Costa Rican government of using the judicial system to violate his rights and derail his conservation efforts. The petition asserts that “legal proceedings against Paul Watson in Costa Rica are the direct result of a political maneuver to disable one of the most renowned conservationists in the world and free Costa Rica to continue the traffic of shark fins, a practice that violates environmental stability of the planet and the natural balance of the marine ecosystems.” This petition could take years to resolve, but if successful, would permanently clear Captain Watson of the charges in Costa Rica.
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