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Justice for innocent Dutch photographer. Erwin Vermeulen "taken away by police- no witness, nor questioned", jailed since Dec 16

By WcP.Observer - Posted on 23 January 2012

Supporter of Sea Shepherd, Dutch photographer Erwin Vermeulen (right) stands next to Sea Shepherd member Scott West after being found not guilty of assault against a man in dolphin-hunting town Taiji, western Japan on Feb 22, 2012.

Taiji, Japan - Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen taken away by police, no witnesses, not questioned
88 Sea Shepherd volunteers from 23 nations in Antarctic Oceans to save whales; 3 were injured by Tsunami-fund armed ‘Government of Japan’ whaling ship on Jan. 17, 2012

In Japan still jailed is an innocent Dutch photographer, Erwin Vermeulen, a volunteer to defend defenseless Taiji dolphins. On Dec 16, 2011, he "was simply approached and taken away by the police - no witnesses, nor questioned". DNA test negative: proof that there was no push. As of Jan 31, over 47 days - 'Erwin is being kept in "solitary, freezing conditions"; denied reading material, haircut & shave, nutrition; Erwin looks "visibly thinner, fatigued"; not allowed contact with parents or anyone other than his lawyers'... How many more innocent volunteers, ocean and sealife protectors will be detained or jailed beyond New Zealand skipper Pete Bethune, Tokyo Two, Australian trio, and how many more would be injured or even killed... for the sake of marine mammals, dolphins and whales who are friendly and helpful to, and may be even more intelligent than, humans?

The three Australian men who boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 recently said "the armoury on the Japanese ship included semi-automatic weapons, sidearms and rifles". Is it a war crime? If Japanese whalers financed by Japan’s Government use military weapons against volunteers, unarmed civilians, citizens from 23 nations... (definition of “world war ”- multiple nations involved. With high tech weapons in place, no need to involve large amount of fighters...)

Top: woman feeds her baby at a shelter for those evacuated away from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. Bottom: Japanese vessel, on its sides reads in giant letters 'Government of Japan'

Taiji, Japan - Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen taken away by police, no witnesses, not questioned

December 16th, 2011 - The Cove Guardians are in Taiji, Japan, to document the annual dolphin slaughter. Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen, Dutch photographer, was simply approached and taken away by the police - no witnesses, nor questioned. Vermeulen was arrested in Taiji, Japan, while attempting to take photos of Risso’s dolphins being transferred from holding pens in the sea to the Dolphin Resort Hotel. Police claim Erwin shoved a hotel employee, Erwin denies using violence. The arrest seemed pre-planned. No witnesses saw Erwin shove the employee and Erwin was not even questioned. The police simply approached him and took him away. Out of compassion for the dolphins being slaughtered in Taiji, Erwin Vermeulen traveled to Japan at his own expense to devote his time and energy to the Cove Guardian mission.

The Cove Guardians are in Taiji to document the annual Dolphin slaughter. Here is the petition demanding his immediate release, and let the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands know that they must do something to get Erwin Free! Messages and photos of support for Erwin can be emailed to You can be as creative as you want. Upon his release, whenever that might be, Sea Shepherd South Africa with the help of chapters all over the world will hand over all your personal messages to him.

The Japanese whalers have escalated their aggression by throwing iron grappling hooks at Sea Shepherd boats. Two Steve Irwin crew were struck in the shoulder with iron grappling hooks and one crewmember was struck twice in the face with a long bamboo pole. American crewmember Brian Race, (25) from New York, was jabbed twice in the face with a bamboo pole receiving lacerations above his right eye and on his nose. Russell Bergh of South Africa, (35) a cameraman for Animal Planet, was struck in the right arm and shoulder with an iron grappling hook thrown from the harpoon vessel resulting in deep bruising. Photographer Guillaume Collet of France, (27) was also struck in the right arm and shoulder by an iron grappling hook resulting in deep bruising.

There were no injuries incurred by any of the crew on the Japanese vessel.

the three Western Australian men who boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 recently said "the armoury on the Japanese ship included semi-automatic weapons, sidearms and rifles"
A NEW test for the federal government is looming in the Australian sub-Antarctic, where a Sea Shepherd ship is set to seek sanctuary from pursuit by Japanese whalers.

The anti-whaling group's long-range vessel Bob Barker is again headed for the territorial waters of Tasmania's Macquarie Island, tailed by the harpoon ship Yushin Maru No. 3.

The two vessels circled the island inside the 12-nautical-mile limit of Macquarie's territorial waters earlier this month, continuing a chase that enables the whalers to warn the key factory ship, Nisshin Maru, of Sea Shepherd's location.

After repeated high-level Australian complaints to Tokyo about the incursion, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she had been advised that the Japanese ship moved outside the 12-mile limit.

The Bob Barker was able to slip away and hunt for the Nisshin Maru further south, until a few days ago when the Yushin Maru No. 3 chased it down once more.

Sea Shepherd's leader, Paul Watson, said yesterday the Bob Barker should reach Macquarie Island some time tomorrow, and it was hoping to lose Yushin Maru No. 3 there.

Meanwhile south-east of Macquarie in the Ross Sea, the Steve Irwin's captain turned to Cold War tactics in an attempt to throw off its pursuer.

Among pack ice, Mr Watson ordered a ''Crazy Ivan'', a manoeuvre borrowed from Soviet-era submarine warfare, in which a tailed vessel turns 180 degrees on its pursuer.
''They turned and ran like spooked rabbits,'' Mr Watson said. ''It was hilarious.''

He also released more details gained by the three Western Australian men who boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 recently, who said the armoury on the Japanese ship included semi-automatic weapons, sidearms and rifles.

*Update January 27, 2012*

Trial Begins For Dutch Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen in Taiji, Japan - The prosecution presents their case
Thursday January 26 marked the start of court proceedings for Dutch Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen, who has been detained for more than 40 days on false charges of assault. Erwin was in Taiji documenting the town’s annual dolphin massacre, which runs from September until March, in an effort to bring global awareness to this horrific slaughter, when he was falsely accused of pushing one of the dolphin resort employees.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society had a definitive presence in the courtroom. Board Director Dr. Bonny Shumaker and Sea Shepherd Netherlands Director Geert Vons made the trip to Japan to support Erwin. Also in attendance were Cove Guardian campaign leader, Scott West, as well as 5 volunteers; none were allowed contact with Erwin.

Until last week, Erwin was being held in the Shingu jail, near Taiji. He has now been transferred to Wakayama, where the trial will take place. Erwin has been kept under solitary conditions and was not told what charges he was being held on until his transfer last week. He has been denied contact with anyone in the outside world including loved ones and fellow Sea Shepherd volunteers. He has been refused any reading material while detained and has been subject to continual interrogation.

Even more shocking is the fact that while in Shingu, Erwin was fed a diet of mostly-if not all- white rice and his requests for nutritional supplements were denied.

The Dolphin Resort trainer who accused Erwin of pushing him gave his statement before the judge. The trainer claims Erwin pushed him in the chest area. The accuser’s account of the incident appeared to be inconsistent with the written statement he provided to the police a few days after the alleged incident. The prosecution went so far as to try and obtain DNA evidence to prove Erwin touched the man. Police collected "foreign matters" from around the trainer’s chest, but the DNA test was negative. This test was presented in court and proved, even scientifically, that there was no contact between the two men.

After the accuser gave his statement, Erwin took the stand looking visibly thinner, fatigued, and had not been provided with a haircut or shave while detained.

The prosecution began by attempting to trick Erwin into making harmful remarks about Sea Shepherd; these attempts failed. He maintains that he had no contact with the trainer and that his hands were full carrying a tripod, camera, and communication radio- leaving no free hand for him to push the man. In his recounting of events, Erwin said he passed a so-called roadblock and that the trainer was on his cell phone and did not even notice him until he was 20 meters past the barricade. Shortly afterwards the Taiji police arrived. Erwin stated that at the time they did not mention anything about the alleged assault, only that he had crossed a no trespassing sign. Only some time later after the Wakayama police and the accuser spent more time conversing, and Erwin and the rest of the Cove Guardians were preparing to leave, did the police inform Erwin that the trainer was claiming he had been pushed.

The prosecution proceeded to bring up irrelevant accusation of trespassing and how taking photos of people who don’t want to be photographed is offensive. Erwin’s reply was “Yes, well I am offended by the dolphin slaughter. It’s not a crime to offend, but I’m not here for photos or trespassing, I’m here for pushing.” He also pointed out to the court that the Cove Guardians have a silent agreement with the police “when we see a sign, we enter once and the English speaking police will tell us if it’s legal or not. The locals always ignore the signs, only they are never reprimanded.”

During the court proceeding Erwin alludes to the conditions inside his jail cell. He was asked to

put on the jacket he was wearing during the alleged crime, as a reenactment for the court. Erwin remarked “I wish I had this in my cell because it’s freezing in there.” When the court was considering taking a break for dinner Erwin said, “ I don’t need to eat. It’s nice and warm in here. This is the first time in two weeks that I’ve been warm.”

It is important to remember that Erwin Vermeulen is being held on charges of simple assault, due to an accusation that he merely pushed another person, and is being subjected to highly inhumane conditions. The conviction rate in Japanese courts is 99% and most detainees confess very quickly. It is easy to see why, after learning of the subpar conditions Erwin is being subjected to inside the Japanese prison system. Through the course of his imprisonment and harsh treatment, Erwin has maintained his innocence and Sea Shepherd will do everything in our power to see him free and justice served.

The trial continues February 1st when the defense will present their case and a Sea Shepherd witness will be allowed to give a testimony. Closing arguments are scheduled for February 16th with a verdict on February 22nd, meaning Erwin will spend another month in jail on a ludicrous charge. If convicted Erwin could face up to two years in prison along with a large fine.

Following the court proceedings, Sea Shepherd Netherlands Director Geert Vons had the following statement:
“Erwin Vermeulen has now become a trump card in the dispute between Japan and the Netherlands over whaling. Sea Shepherd’s ships are registered in the Netherlands and every year when the whale hunt starts Japan complains to the Netherlands about environmental activists hindering its whale hunters.

The charges against Erwin were only clearly stated on Saturday. He is being treated like a notorious criminal. He is not allowed any contact with the outside world, or any letters. It is a very, very sad story. I had expected more support from the Dutch Government, for a Dutch national.”

According to the Dutch Animal Rights Party, Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal is “not doing enough” and they want a debate about the issue in the Lower House. According to Esther Ouwehand, one of the party's two members of parliament, Japan has a reputation for arresting activists who it regards as “hindering” whale hunts for political reasons. Ouwehand wants Rosenthal to summon the Japanese ambassador.

*Update Feb. 22, 2012*

Sea Shepherd Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen Found Not Guilty By Japanese Judge
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.

Japan Times: Wakayama court clears anti-dolphin hunt activist
WAKAYAMA — A Japanese court on Wednesday ruled that a Dutch supporter of militant environmentalist group Sea Shepherd was not guilty of assaulting a man in a dolphin-hunting town.

Erwin Vermeulen, 42, was indicted for allegedly punching the man in December in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, when he was stopped from entering an off-limits area near a secluded bay where large and bloody dolphin hunts take place.

Judge Satoshi Shibayama at the Wakayama district court said testimony given by the alleged victim was not sufficient to convict Vermeulen, Jiji Press reported.

“The testimony by the victim is inconsistent,” said the judge, noting that the Japanese man’s account of having been pushed with the defendant’s left hand conflicted with the fact that Vermeulen held a radio in his right hand and a camera in his left, Jiji said. Prosecutors, who had sought a fine of 100,000 yen, are mulling an appeal to a higher court, the report said.

The picturesque town in western Japan came to global attention after “The Cove”, a hard-hitting film about the annual hunts, won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2010.

Every year the fishermen of Taiji corral some 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select a few dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks, and stab the rest to death for meat in a slaughter that turns the water red.

Activist acquitted in assault in Taiji
WAKAYAMA — A Dutch activist linked to radical antiwhaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was acquitted Wednesday of assaulting a Japanese worker in the whaling town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, in December.

In his ruling on Erwin Vermeulen, 42, Judge Satoshi Shibayama said the Wakayama District Court could not rule out the possibility his accuser was lying and that "there remains doubt over the credibility of the testimony, which is the only evidence" in the case.

Vermeulen was arrested Dec. 16 for allegedly shoving a unnamed man in the chest using his left hand as he tried to force his way onto a seaside road where public access was banned because dolphins were being moved. Vermeulen denied acting violently toward the man, who was blocking his way.

During the trial, Vermeulen's counsel argued that the plaintiff's testimony was not credible and said it would have been physically impossible for the Dutch activist to shove him because both his hands were occupied at the time.

Taiji has become a hotbed for animal rights disputes because of its annual dolphin slaughter, a controversial tradition that entered the global spotlight after being featured in "The Cove," a U.S. film that won the Oscar for best documentary in 2009.


Photos courtesy Sea Shepherd, Junko Kimura / Getty Images, Greenpeace, BBC, AFP, Kate Davison / Greenpeace, Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images, AP Photo / Gregory Bull, William West / AFP / Getty Images,, and Billy Danger

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