February 22, 2012-Wakayama, Japan- In a very rare example of extreme bravery the Wakayama Court Judge presiding over the case of Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian volunteer Erwin Vermeulen, has declared the Dutch activist not guilty. This outcome was completely unexpected from a justice system that boasts a 99% conviction rate. In the Japanese court system there is a presumption of guilt, not of innocence. There is no burden of proof for the prosecutor to bear; the defendant must prove his innocence. Most defendants avoid this injustice by pleading guilty and begging forgiveness. In the very few cases in which a person dares to declare their innocence, the judge usually decides the case in favor of the prosecutor. The judge does not consider the facts or the evidence, but rather how embarrassing a loss might be for the prosecutor and how their own personal reputation may be harmed by an acquittal.
Erwin Vermeulen is the victim of a politically motivated attack. The judge himself stated there was no evidence to back up this claim against Vermeulen. He was held in a Japanese jail for 60 days, in solitary conditions and fed a poor diet. Vermeulen was prosecuted for being Dutch because the Sea Shepherd ships fly the Dutch flag, and for merely being associated with SSCS. The charges of “minor assault” were based upon the untrue words of a young man who was caught failing to perform his simple task of monitoring a gate at the Dolphin Resort Hotel.
The Wakayama Prefecture Police called their competence into question by the way they handled Vermeulen’s arrest and the ensuing investigation. The Wakayama Prefecture Prosecutor’s Office pursued a flawed case simply because someone in power told them to do so. In a country with a staggering conviction rate and a government that is hostile towards Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, this verdict is a huge victory for both the individual and the organization.
“The judge showed great courage in going against public opinion and ruling fairly. My arrest and 2 month detention generated world-wide publicity for the dolphins in Taiji and I would like to thank the Wakayama prefecture police and prosecutors for generously donating Japanese taxpayers money to bring attention to the dolphin slaughter” said Vermeulen.
“Today Erwin was exonerated. But how does he recover the lost 60 days he spent in jail? Fortunately, Erwin’s case has brought more worldwide awareness to the dolphin slaughter in Taiji. Erwin’s case has further exposed Japan’s Third World Oligarchy system for what it is. Erwin paid a high price for these things, but he was strong enough to do so and gladly did so for the cause,” said Cove Guardian campaign leader Scott West.
Erwin Vermeulen and Cove Guardian campaign leader Scott West will hold a press conference at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo on February 24th at 3:00 P.M.
About the Cove Guardians
For several years, Sea Shepherd has been documenting and working to gain public support in order to end the brutal, unnecessary, unproductive annual capture and slaughter of hundreds of wild dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The continued courageous on-site presence of Sea Shepherd volunteers has brought about significant reduction in the number of dolphins tortured and killed, but their aim is to end it. Sea Shepherd’s campaign in Taiji this year is called Infinite Patience, and their volunteers there are known as Cove Guardians.
About Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Established in 1977, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) is an international non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to end the destruction of habitat and slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans in order to conserve and protect ecosystems and species. Sea Shepherd uses innovative direct-action tactics to investigate, document, and take action when necessary to expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas. By safeguarding the biodiversity of our delicately balanced oceanic ecosystems, Sea Shepherd works to ensure their survival for future generations. Founder and President Captain Paul Watson, is a world renowned, respected leader in environmental issues. Visit www.seashepherd.org for more information.