Anti-whaling activist Pete Bethune, 45, has been convicted by a Tokyo court of assault and obstruction of Japanese whaling ships in the Antarctic Ocean, receiving a suspended two-year prison sentence. Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd banned Bethune for carrying a weapon onboard ship as a strategy to help him avoid prison in Japan, and he’s free to rejoin its protests, founder Paul Watson said. Watson said the 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.” “He’s a hero to the conservation movement and we’d certainly welcome him back,” he said. Sea Shepherd has been protesting Japan’s whaling in Antarctic waters for years, and has often engaged in scuffles with Japanese whalers. It claims the research whaling program, an allowed exception to an international whaling ban, is a cover for commercial hunting.