WELLINGTON, New Zealand — An anti-whaling group banned one of its members for carrying a weapon onboard ship as a strategy to help him avoid prison in Japan, and he's free to rejoin its protests, the group's leader said Thursday.
A Tokyo court on Wednesday convicted New Zealander Peter Bethune of assault and obstructing Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic Ocean earlier this year, but suspended the two-year prison sentence.
Bethune, 45, climbed onto the whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 in February from a Jet Ski to confront its captain over a collision the previous month that sank the Sea Shepherd protest vessel Bethune skippered.
During the trial, Sea Shepherd announced it would not let Bethune join further protests because it found he had loaded a bow and arrows onto his vessel before it set sail -- even though he didn't intend to use them against the Japanese whaling ships.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said Thursday that ban "was really just a legal strategy" as "the Japanese judges would [have been] hesitant to release Pete ... if they knew he was going to be [back] down in the southern ocean."