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Sea Shepherd Founder Paul Watson Fights Extradition to Costa Rica for 2002 Shark Defense

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Captain Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has been released on bail in Germany following his arrest for possible extradition to Costa Rica on decade-old charges stemming from a confrontation between a Sea Shepherd vessel with shark fin poachers off the coast of Guatemala. Sea Shepherd is known for using nonviolent direct action to enforce international fishing and conservation laws and has been highly recognized for its anti-whaling efforts. Sea Shepherd continues to maintain that Watson’s arrest was politically motivated and is calling on its supporters to come together in a day of action on Wednesday when Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla visits Germany. Watson joins us from Frankfurt. “We’ve never injured anybody,” Watson says. “The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera. So, we go into battle armed with cameras. … Right now 90 million sharks a year are being destroyed to feed the shark fin industry in Asia. And that means the fins are cut off of these animals, and they’re thrown back into the ocean. And this is what we filmed off of Guatemala, and this is what we intervened against: a highly illegal operation.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The founder of the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has been released on over a quarter million dollars’ bail by a German court. Captain Paul Watson now faces possible extradition to Costa Rica on a decade-old charge stemming from a confrontation with shark fin poachers. The incident apparently occurred in Guatemalan waters with the crew of a Costa Rican vessel after activists reportedly uncovered an illegal shark-finning operation. Costa Rica claims Watson, a Canadian, endangered the fishing boat and its crew. But Watson’s Frankfurt-based attorney Oliver Wallasch said Watson was just enforcing anti-poaching laws already on the books. He said the decision to grant bail by the Frankfurt high regional court is extraordinary.

OLIVER WALLASCH: This is what I can say from my 15 years’ practice doing extradition law, and it seemed to be that even with the judges and the public prosecution office, it is very likely that they see that in this case is something slippery, and therefore, they granted bail, which is a step that is absolutely unusual for the Frankfurt high regional court.

AMY GOODMAN: Watson was arrested in Frankfurt airport last week on an international warrant. On Friday, the German court ruled it will consider Costa Rica’s extradition request, giving the country 90 days to make its case.

Sea Shepherd says Watson was filming a documentary in 2002 when his team encountered an illegal shark-finning operation in Guatemalan waters. Footage from the group’s intervention was later included in the documentary Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist.

PAUL WATSON: … the Sea Shepherd as a weapon, we went about the business of scaring the crap out of poachers. We’d pull up dangerously close to some big longliner and direct them to haul in their lines and leave the national park. Sometimes they needed a little tap to get the point across. The poachers knew perfectly well they were fishing illegally, and it was obvious that we had the means, if not the authority, to enforce the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Sea Shepherd continues to maintain that Watson’s arrest was politically motivated and is calling on its supporters to come together in a day of action on Wednesday, when the Costa Rican president visits Germany. The organization has long protested illegal shark-finning operations. Shark finning involves slicing the fins off sharks and returning them to the water, where they usually die.

We’re going now to Frankfurt, Germany, where we’re joined by Paul Watson himself.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Paul. Can you tell us what happened, why you believe you were arrested now, 10 years after this encounter took place?

PAUL WATSON: Sure. First of all, I should point out the footage that you just saw was off Cocos Island, it wasn’t about the incident that was involved. That was for the film Sharkwater, which was an award-winning documentary on shark finning. And in 2002, we did encounter a Costa Rican longliner in Guatemalan waters. I then radioed the Guatemalan minister of the environment, the ministry, and I asked, “What should we do?” And they asked us to escort them into San José, Guatemala. We were in the process of doing that when the San José port captain told us to release them. So we did release them, and then we went on to Puntarenas in Costa Rica.

And there, two days later, we were boarded by a judge and a prosecutor, and we were charged. So we went into the court, and we showed our film, and our witnesses presented their statements, and they dismissed the charges. Then two days later, we were boarded by another party. This time they had appointed another judge and another prosecutor, charged us again. We once more went into the courts, and they looked at our video evidence, questioned our witness, and dismissed the charges.

Then we went on to Cocos Island to work with the rangers, who were packing up their garbage there to bring to the mainland and sealing it in barrels, when I was informed by our ship’s agency that I would be arrested. And I said, “What? For a third time?” And they said, “No, we have—we have a law in Costa Rica. We can hold you for a year while we investigate these allegations.” And I said, “Well, you know, we can’t play that kind of game,” so we went off to Panama. And I haven’t heard anything since, until 10 years later, that—and that they made these charges. It’s interesting, because we have everything on tape. And all we have is the word of these poachers, that—you know, that we put their life in danger. None of them were injured. There was no damage to any of their property.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a clip of the film about you. You were filming a documentary in 2002 when your team encountered the illegal shark-finning operation in Guatemalan waters. Footage from the group’s intervention was later included. I just want to play a clip from this film, Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, and you can explain what it is that you are listening to.

PAUL WATSON: Without even trying, we found ourselves surrounded by commercial fishermen invading the Cocos marine sanctuary. Our radar picked up 15 poachers in just one sweep. Although our intended destination was the Galapagos, still hundreds of miles away, we figured, as long as we were here, why not do what the local authorities were apparently not doing and chase away poachers? We had no legal authority, of course, but that never stopped us. We don’t need no stinking badges, or guns, for that matter. Guns would cost us public support, so we don’t allow them, which is not to say we go into battle unarmed. We did have a few powerful squirt guns, intended for fire suppression, but useful as weapons. And we had our famous pie gun, a compressed air cannon that could fire anything we put into it. A week in the tropics, and all those eggs we hid from the vegans went very, very bad for lack of refrigeration, so we had a good supply of those.

AMY GOODMAN: That from the film Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist, with the cameraman, the narrator, Paul Watson. Explain.

PAUL WATSON: Well, first of all, that was an incident in 2001, when we intercepted the Ecuadorian longliner, the San José, which we did with—in partnership with the Galapagos park rangers. In fact, that vessel was the first vessel to be actually confiscated by the Costa Rican courts for illegal fishing. But the incident that I’m being charged with was in 2002 off of Guatemala in Guatemalan waters, involving a vessel called the Varadero. And that was in the film Sharkwater. So, there’s two completely different films here.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, right now, the—who you think is behind this arrest? Now they’re charging you with attempted murder, is that right? And the Costa Rican—

PAUL WATSON: No, no, no, they’re not charging me with attempted murder. They’re charging me with a navigational offense of putting, apparently, the fishermen’s lives in jeopardy because of our navigational movements through the water. It’s not attempted murder.

AMY GOODMAN: The Costa Rican president is coming to Germany. What—who do you think is behind these—this charge against you now?

PAUL WATSON: We don’t know, but we find it very coincidental that in October 2011 Japan filed a civil suit against us, and that same month Costa Rica filed this Interpol request. Japan has taken $30 million from the tsunami earthquake defense fund to be used exclusively for security for their whaling fleet, and of that money they’ve used to use for legal cases against us. They lost the request for an injunction in the U.S. court. And so, I think that this could be another attempt to stop us this way. We don’t really know. But it is very coincidental that on the exact same month and year that both Japan and Costa Rica acted on this.

Also, I should point out that Interpol dismissed this as being politically motivated, and every other country has dismissed it, except Germany has a special law that they just simply disregard the Interpol’s dismissal and go on their own. They actually have no extradition treaty with Japan or Costa Rica, but they just proceed anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to another clip. According to the documentary Sharkwater, the world’s shark population has decreased an astonishing 90 percent due to the high demand for shark fin soup and other delicacies. I want to play a clip from the trailer of that film.

ROB STEWART: … your whole life, since you’re a kid, sharks are dangerous. You’re warned about venturing too far into the ocean. But then, finally, you’re underwater, and you see the thing that you were taught your whole life to fear. And it’s perfect, and it doesn’t want to hurt you, and it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. And your whole world changes.

There’s so much money in fins that only trafficking drugs rivals fins for profit.

Saw sharks.

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s very, very fierce.


UNIDENTIFIED: Very fierce. You see the teeth.


Elephants kill more people each year than sharks do.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from Sharkwater. Paul, describe what it is that you do. Whether it comes to whaling or whether it comes to shark finning, what is the purpose of Sea Shepherd, this organization you founded splitting off from Greenpeace?

PAUL WATSON: Sea Shepherd is not a protest organization. What we do is intervene against illegal activities. We have all the laws and the treaties and the rules we need to protect life in our oceans. What we don’t have is the political and economic will on the part of governments to uphold those laws and regulations, and that’s where we intervene. And we do so nonviolently. We’ve never injured anybody in our 35 years of operation. The most powerful weapon in the world, as far as I’m concerned, is the camera. So, we go into battle armed with cameras. And yes, we do make things dramatic to put attention on these issues, but we’re very, very careful to ensure that nobody is injured, and we never have injured anybody.

But right now, 90 million sharks a year are being destroyed to feed the shark fin industry in Asia. And that means the fins are cut off of these animals, and they’re thrown back into the ocean. And this is what we filmed off of Guatemala, and this is what we intervened against: a highly illegal operation. And we did so at the bequest of the Guatemalan government. But there’s a lot of politics involved, and there’s a lot of money in shark finning. And the shark-finning mafia, which pretty much controls a lot of these communities, like Puntarenas, have a lot influence.

AMY GOODMAN: Captain Paul Watson, what happens now? They have released you. You’re on bail. What are the regulations around your release right now? Are you under house arrest?

PAUL WATSON: I’m under house arrest in Germany. I can’t leave Germany. I will be going to Berlin tomorrow. We will—because the president of Costa Rica is meeting with the chancellor of Germany, and we have protests around the world over this. I’m trying to focus on the issue, which is the killing of sharks, not just my case. And that’s what we’re hoping to do. I’m not going to run away from this issue. If I have to go to Costa Rica, then that’s fine. I only want assurances that my life will be protected, because I’ve got a $20,000 contract on my head from the shark fin mafia in Costa Rica. And so, I certainly don’t want to be put in a jail where I’m going to be knifed, so somebody can collect that reward. So I would like to get assurances from the Costa Rican government.

AMY GOODMAN: Captain Paul Watson, I want to thank you for being with us, founder and executive director of the anti-poaching organization, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. We’ll continue to follow the case.

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