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 support the claim against Erwin. He was held in a Japanese jail for 60 days, in solitary conditions and fed a poor diet. Erwin 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 displayed their incompetence by the way they handled Erwin’s arrest and the ensuing investigation. The Wakayama Prefecture Prosecutor’s Office proved itself to be a puppet and pursued a flawed case simply because someone in power told them to do so. The actions of these police officers and prosecutors is an embarrassment for real law enforcement officers the world over. In a country with a staggering conviction rate and a government that is hostile towards the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, this verdict is a huge victory for both the individual and the organization.
Erwin says that 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 tax payers money to bring attention to the dolphin slaughter.”
Erwin 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.