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IWC rejects Japan’s proposal to lift commercial whale hunting ban

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IWC rejects Japan’s proposal to lift commercial whale hunting ban

A Japan-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of whales has been rejected by a global body for the conservation of the mammals.

During a bi-annual summit in Brazil, member states of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Friday voted down the motion by 41 to 27.

Two member states – Russia and South Korea – abstained, while one – Monaco – did not participate.

Norway and Iceland – the only countries to explicitly allow commercial whaling – were among those who backed Japan’s bid.

Tokyo said it would undertake a “fundamental reassessment” of its IWC membership following the vote, which guaranteed the body’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling will continue.

Patrick Ramage, a director of marine conservation for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), welcomed the result as “good news for whales”, adding that Japan’s “audacious proposal would have been a big step backward”.

“It [the proposal] could have erased a generation of conservation measures and restrictions on whale hunting,” Ramage told Al Jazeera from the summit in Florianopolis, the capital of Brazil’s southeastern Santa Catarina state. 

“It’s increasingly clear that Japan needs to reconcile itself to the emerging global consensus for whale conservation instead of whale killing,” he added.

On Thursday, the IWC also passed a non-binding “Florianopolis Declaration” stating commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity by 40 votes to 27.

International controversy

Japan’s call for the IWC’s moratorium to be lifted formed part of a proposal for wider reform of the organisation, which it suggested should focus on “resource management” and permit species of whales “whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably”.

In particular, Tokyo was keen to win a concession allowing for the regulated hunting of Minke whales, a species it has claimed are abundant and in no danger of extinction.

Minke whales, comprising of the Common and Antarctic varieties, are not listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Minke whaling is an integral part not only of our history, but also of our own lives,” the Japanese delegation said in its opening statement to the summit.

“We are proud that Japan’s small-type coastal minke whaling has always been a sustainable fishery. Our fishery has not negatively impacted the ecosystem and it never will,” the statement added.

Whale meat is a popular foodstuff among certain parts of Japan’s population, though demand for it has fallen significantly in recent decades, according to a 2013 IFAW report. 

Japan, the current chair of the IWC, officially observes the body’s prohibition on commercial hunting but continues to capture hundreds of Minke whales each year under an exception to the ban, which permits the killing of whales for scientific purposes.

In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Japan to halt its whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, also called the Antarctic Ocean, after determining that the hunting permits granted by authorities were not being used “for purposes of scientific research”.

Japan resumed the programme in 2016, under a significantly reduced hunting quota of 333, while Iceland and Norway hunted a combined 637 Minke whales in 2016, the last year for which IWC records are available.

Norway and Iceland are the only countries to explicitly allow commercial whaling [File: AP]

‘Many threats’

Under the terms of the 1986 moratorium, certain aboriginal communities are also allowed to catch and kill a regulated number of whales, in line with their historic cultural practices and the mammals’ nutritional value.

In 2016, aboriginal catches amounted to 361 – comprised of Fin, Humpback, Minke, Gray and Bowhead whales. The hunting took place in Russia, Denmark and the United States.

An estimated 45,000 whales have been killed since the IWC’s 1986 ruling, according to the UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, including those hunted under its exemptions (scientific purposes and aboriginal catching).

Claire Bass, director of the US-based animal protection organisation Humane Society International, said overturning the moratorium would have risked “robbing future generations of the opportunity to meet, admire and learn from the ocean’s giants”.

“Japan’s proposal to resume commercial whaling would be like jumping from a plane without a parachute,” Bass told Al Jazeera. 

“Whales are long-lived, slow-breeding animals and this makes them especially vulnerable to over-hunting,” she added.

“Whales face so many threats in our increasingly degraded oceans; it’s critical that the IWC focuses its time and resources on tackling the many problems that we create for whales, such as entanglements in fishing gear and pollution.”

Six of the world’s 13 “great whale species” are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

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Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

 Where is the red line for Azerbaijan’s journalists?

Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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