The judge in the trial of Sea Shepherd activist Erwin Vermeulen arrested in Taiji, Japan, last December for an alleged pushing incident, has ordered him released. But prosecutors continue to push their case, demanding a hearing in a higher court.
Vermeulen has been held since his arrest on Dec. 16, after a Dolphin Resort Hotel employee in Taiji accused Vermeulen of pushing him during the transfer of a dolphin. The Dutch national, who was in Taiji to monitor the annual dolphin drives as a Cove Guardian for Sea Shepherd, was promptly arrested and remanded to prison.
Yesterday, during closing arguments, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) described the defense as "amazing in continuing to prove there is no case and no basis for this arrest and incarceration." The Judge agreed with the defense team, and subsequently ordered Erwin's release. The prosecution immediately appealed his decision to a higher court. As a result, Erwin Vermeulen remains in jail.
Digital Journal has been following Vermeulen's trial since his arrest, and prosecutors have ensured the case is less about about proving the guilt of a man, and more about the equitable and fair application of Japanese law. Despite the lack of any credible evidence and in the face of the presiding judge's ruling to set Vermeulen free, prosecutors continue to grasp at straws in this case.
What has been astounding on a personal level, is how some entities, in direct opposition to Sea Shepherd as an organization, have welcomed and applauded the Dutch nationalist's arrest.
Far be it from me to the burst the bubble, but this case rests far from the Sea Shepherd organization and the agreement or disagreement with its polices. It's about one man's fight against an antiquated system that in Vermeulen's case, is positively criminal in light of the fact that it denigrates the most basic tenets of human rights.
When Vermeulen's trial began on Jan. 26, he took the stand "visibly thinner," having lost 20 pounds since his arrest said Sea Shepherd. Erwin himself lamented his current conditions to the courtroom, when he refused a break in proceedings because it was "nice and warm in here." The activist said it was the first time that he had experienced warmth since his arrest.
Those celebrating Vermeulen's arrest because of his associations, are as equally guilty of complicity in this case as the prosecutors are. The terrible, tragic side-effects of actions such as these, serve only to undermine the honorable nature of Japan, by committing a grave disservice to the country, and the Japanese people.
Evidence of this was presented by Hiroki Ogawa of The Diplomat, who wrote back in 2011 how, "public prosecutors [...] wield significant investigative power in addition to their powers of prosecution." It is an issue he said, that promoted evidence tampering, such as was recently witnessed in Osaka, when former prosecutor Tsunehiko Maeda, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for altering data on a floppy disk.
Put simply, Japanese prosecutors are used to getting their own way.
A statement in the Japan Times by Akira Kitani, a professor at the School of Law of Hosei University appears to support Ogawa's assessment. "It is undeniable" Kitani said, "that judges tend to put more trust in investigative authorities than the defense. It is this combination Ogawa suggests, that nudges the Japanese legal system to an "unusually high conviction rate in criminal trials of about 99 percent."
Does this make these two men and the judge who ordered Vermeulen's release, Sea Shepherd sympathizers?
To the contrary, it shows that common sense is prevailing in the trial of Erwin Vermeulen. The prosecuting team, has failed to produce one witness to the alleged incident, and chose to build its entire case around the claims of an accuser who can hardly claim impartiality.
The actions of the prosecution have at times, been ludicrous. For example, police collected "foreign matters" for DNA testing from around the dolphin trainer’s chest. This attempt to prove Erwin touched the dolphin trainer might have been humorous, had a man's future not been at stake here.
What should happen in this case next is simple. Local prosecutors should be held to task for making Japan a laughing stock in the eyes of the world and charges should be leveled for fraudulent waste and abuse of taxpayer money.
Vermeulen's case was never about a crime, it was to prove a point after prosecutors had already deemed him guilty by association. Their latest appeal to a higher court, (which flies directly in the face of the judge's ruling), is testament to this. Their actions may keep Erwin in jail for a short while longer, but the fiasco of this case, has brought only shame on the city of Wakayama and the town of Taiji.
For Vermeulen, hope remains. According to Sea Shepherd founder Capt. Paul Watson, "the Judge was not happy about the prosecution's appeal and has sent the papers to the higher court asking them to rule on this as early as tomorrow and release Erwin."
The one saving grace in this case is the judge who presided over it. His efforts to protect the integrity of the legal system in Wakayama, should be warmly applauded by any person who abhors injustice, in any form.
Update Feb. 17, 2012: According to Sea Shepherd, Erwin Vermeulen was released from jail today, pending the judge's verdict. Erwin will be back in court on February 22 to hear the judge’s verdict on the assault charges. If found guilty, the prosecution has asked for a fine of 100,000 Yen ($1,300), and no jail time.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com