Friday, January 27, 2012

Fair trial for Dutch activist in Japan?

From Radio News Netherlands: Fair trial for Dutch activist in Japan?
Dutch environmental activist Erwin Vermeulen has been charged with assault by the Public Prosecutor in Japan. On Thursday the trial of Sea Shepherd activist Vermeulen started in Wakayama.

Mr Vermeulen was arrested on 16 December 2011 and charged with assault by the Japanese police. He is said to have pushed a Japanese hotel employee while taking photos of the transport of captured dolphins. Together with volunteers from Sea Shepherd Mr Vermeulen was trying to thwart attempts to hunt and kill dolphins.

Erwin Vermeulen has now become a trump card in the dispute between Japan and the Netherlands about whaling, according to Geert Vons, who heads Sea Shepherd. 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.

“It could well be that the Japanese authorities are so annoyed that they want to set a precedent. Maybe they feel nobody is listening to them, or they feel a bit humiliated. I’m not sure, but it must be something like that.”

Dutch government looks on
Geert Vons thinks Japan’s reaction is out of all proporation to the alleged incident, which he regards as merely a push.

“The charges were only clearly stated on Saturday. Erwin 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 also expected more support for a Dutch national from the Dutch government.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Uri Rosenthal doesn’t want to interfere in the case, as he believes there will be a fair trial. However, a representative of the Dutch consulate is attending the trial in Wakayama.

The foreign ministry is also trying to make sure Vermeulen’s visa doesn’t expire before the end of the trial, as this would mean he could be additionally charged for being in Japan illegally.

Summoning Japanese ambassador
The Animal Rights Party says Mr Rosenthal is not doing enough and wants a debate about the issue in the Lower House. According to one of the party's two MPs, Esther Ouwehand, 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.

Hunting whales and dolphins is legal in Japan. The meat may be sold for human consumption. Some of these mammals are caught alive and sold to dolphinariums all over the world.

Geert Vons thinks it might take the court some time to reach a verdict. He says Erwin Vermeulen could be facing a conditional sentence of two years, or a large fine.

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