On the heels of his stunning February 22nd acquittal in the Wakayama Prefecture Court near Taiji, Sea Shepherd volunteer Cove Guardian and Dutch national Erwin Vermeulen, accompanied by Director of Intelligence and Investigations for Sea Shepherd and Cove Guardian leader Scott West, held a press conference today at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo. The two were joined by Mr. Takayama Iwao, the lead attorney for Vermeulen’s successful defense.
Erwin was arrested on December 16th after being falsely accused of pushing a local dolphin trainer. For this alleged minor offense, he was held for a startling 64 days under very poor conditions. During the first half of his incarceration, he was denied adequate nutrition, warm clothes, contact with the outside world including reading material, and even the ability to properly shower. In recent weeks, candlelight vigils were held in key cities around the world to call attention to Erwin’s plight and the plight of the dolphins slaughtered by the hundreds each year in Taiji. He was finally released on February 16th, pending his verdict; he was acquitted on February 22nd.
The room was crowded with domestic and foreign media. Scott began the press conference by introducing all the parties on the interview panel. He then told the media that they were all gathered there because “crimes have been committed.”
He said, “The killing of dolphins is considered a crime in the modern and civilized world. However, the killing of dolphins and whales is allowed under current Japanese law. What does this say about Japan? It is an ugly blemish on Japan’s name. One day, Japan will join the modern and civilized world and will outlaw the slaughter of whales and dolphins.”
Scott went on to call attention to the crime committed by Kitigawa, the man who perjured himself on the witness stand by falsely accusing Erwin of pushing him simply because Erwin witnessed him not doing his job; the incompetence of the Wakayama Prefecture Police, who made serious mistakes in their investigation; and the Wakayama Prefecture Prosecutor’s Office, which was either inept in fulfilling its duties or politically motivated in its vociferous persecution of Erwin.
Scott also called into question the flawed principles upon which the entire Japanese judicial system operates. He said, “Terms like ‘presumption of innocence’, ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, and ‘right to remain silent’ are only words on paper in Japan. I spent most of my professional life investigating crime and building good solid cases. Cases that had to withstand tough scrutiny by a system dedicated to protecting the basic human rights of accused persons. Erwin’s arrest, detention, and investigation were not aberrations. His experience is the norm for Japan. Erwin was persecuted for remaining silent. Erwin was presumed guilty from the outset. Erwin had to prove his innocence instead of the prosecutor having to prove guilt.”
But Scott was also generous in offering praise where praise was due. He complimented the defense attorney and his team for their exceptional defense. He also complimented the courageous judge who presided over the case.
“We are here today because of the integrity of one man. One man who had the courage to defy expectations and face the consequences of doing the right and just thing. The judge in Erwin’s trial is that man. I have no doubt that the judge will be condemned by the system here. I know that my praise is likely not to help him and that is unfortunate. My speaking of his honor today is not because I am Sea Shepherd. My speaking his praise today is from my professional expertise in the field of criminal justice. “
Scott also said, “And we are here today because of the bravery and courage of Erwin Vermeulen. Lesser men would have broken. Lesser men have broken.”
Before turning the floor over to Erwin, Scott added: "The arrest and the intimidation backfired on the Wakayama authorities. Erwin paid [a] huge price for all of this attention, but it was significantly helpful to the cause."
Taking his turn at the microphone, Erwin recounted his ordeal in detail as cameras flashed before him. Even after his experience, he had not lost sight of the reason he went to Taiji in the first place. He said, "My arrest [and] detention of two months and the trial have generated worldwide attention for the sake of dolphins in Taiji and for Sea Shepherd in general. “ He added, “This exposure was funded by Japanese taxpayers' money."
Following the media Q&A session, the press conference concluded. Erwin is currently en route home to Amsterdam for a hard-earned respite with his family. He is expected to receive a hero’s welcome at the airport, where the media and supporters from Sea Shepherd/Netherlands will greet him tomorrow.