Sea Shepherd: ′Watson would never get out of jail′ | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 30.07.2012
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Sea Shepherd: 'Watson would never get out of jail'

Marine activist Paul Watson has left the country, his German attorneys say. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claims Watson's international pursuit is politically motivated, and has put him in danger.

A Frankfurt regional appeals court has reinstated an extradition warrant for Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, after he failed to report to German officials last week.

Watson, 61, was taken into custody at Frankfurt Airport in May after Costa Rica issued the arrest warrant in December 2011 for a shark-finning incident in Guatemalan waters from 2002.

Earlier in July, the Frankfurt court allowed Watson's release on 250,000 euros ($307,000) bail, but last week his German legal counsel announced that Watson had "departed Germany" and is now in an "undisclosed location."

The organization, meanwhile, sees the extradition as politically motivated. The head of Sea Shepherd Germany says the country is clouding its international reputation by enforcing the request.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's scout vessel Brigitte Bardot

Sea Shepherd has targetted Japan's whale hunt since 2002

Confrontational tactics

Costa Rica alleges that Watson committed a "violation of shipping traffic" when a Sea Shepherd vessel interfered with illegal shark-finning of a Costa Rican vessel off the coast of Guatemala in 2002. Shark finning involves cutting the fins off of sharks, which usually die as a result.

According to Sea Shepherd, its vessel was escorting the shark-finning ship to port when "a Guatemalan gunboat was dispatched to intercept the Sea Shepherd crew." The ship then apparently sailed to Costa Rica to avoid the gunboat.

It's not Sea Shepherd's first run-in with authorities - the organization often uses confrontational tactics to try and stop the killing of whales, dolphins, fish and other marine animals, which often takes place illegally.

Sea Shepherd appears to have made a powerful enemy by opposing Japan's annual whale hunt in the Antarctic. Despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan has been using a "scientific research" provision of an international treaty to kill hundreds of whales each year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Japanese vessel harpoons whale in South Polar Sea

Japan has taken Antarctic whales for "research purposes" since 1987

There have been numerous clashes between Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers. Activists claim the whalers have used grappling hooks, bamboo poles and water cannons against them, while the Japanese institute in charge of the hunting counters that Sea Shepherd activists tried to cut ropes or tangle Japanese ship's propellers with ropes. In 2010, Sea Shepherd's speedboat Ady Gil sank in a clash with the whalers.

Lifelong animal rights activist

Watson's bent for confrontational tactics started in his early age in Canada, causing conflict as he grew older.

A biography on the Sea Shepherd website describes how, at the age of nine, Watson sought out and destroyed beaver traps "after trappers killed one of his beaver friends."

Although Watson was apparently a founding member of the environmental organization Greenpeace, disagreement over tactics led to a split with the declared non-violent group in 1977. Watson went on to found Sea Shepherd.

Laurens de Groot, a Sea Shepherd employee from the Netherlands working in Africa, described Watson as "a very good captain" who is "determined and passionate about saving life in the oceans."

"With Paul, it's all about the campaigns," de Groot told DW. And though Watson is an inspiring and motivating leader, Sea Shepherd is "not a cult of personality," de Groot added.

De Groot echoed Sea Shepherd's position, and called the charges politically motivated. "Japan is putting a lot of pressure on Germany and Costa Rica," de Groot said. "They have a lot to gain by taking Paul out."

Leaders of the organization in Germany question why the government pursued the case in the first place.

Germany's role

Japan filed a request with Germany for Watson's extradition last week, and he subsequently skipped the country - the group stated that if extradited, Watson "would not have received a fair trial and would never have seen the outside of a prison again."

Whale hunt

Sea Shepherd has promised to continue campaigning

Hans-Georg Koch, an expert at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Freiburg, told DW that the May arrest was likely the result of an automatic process where authorities are alerted by a computer database system when a wanted person's passport is scanned upon entry into Germany.

"Being taken into custody is not connected to much knowledge about why," Koch told DW. It's then up to the German courts to determine whether any German laws have been broken, or whether it would be correct to extradite someone to a country where they wouldn't be likely to get a fair trial, Koch explained.

But Maddy Madison, the director of Sea Shepherd Germany, pointed out that no specific bilateral extradition treaty exists between Germany and Costa Rica. The group also alleges that Japan is behind Costa Rica's extradition request, a decade after the incident occurred.

Madison told DW that despite pressure on the German justice minister and politicians, German prosecutors have continued to pursue the case - which reflects poorly on the country, Madison thinks.

"Germany has nothing to gain from this - it's just making itself internationally ridiculous," Madison asserted.

He said the group intends to continue campaigning, and will wait to see how the German government acts after the expiration of Costa Rica's request.

Koch doesn't see the German government expending any energy on an international search, but emphasized that as long as the international extradition request stood, Watson could be picked up at any border. "He'd be the safest in his home country," Koch said. And if Watson was detected entering Germany, the whole process would start over from the beginning, he added.

As to the quarter of a million euros in bail - which Madison said a donor provided - "that money is gone," Koch said.

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