WAKAYAMA, Japan (Dec. 29, 2011) — A photographer who allegedly pushed an animal trainer by accident to film the transfer of dolphins has being charged with assault today, said Japanese authorities.
An indictment has been brought against Cove Guardian and Dutch citizen Erwin Vermeulen by the Japanese Public Prosecuture in Wakayama Prefecture. Vermeulen was arrested on Dec. 16.
Vermeulen is being held at the Shingu police station, and has been denied a lawyer and visitation rights, even from the Dutch Embassy. According to Japanese law, Vermeulen can be held for 28 days before being allowed to speak with an attorney, according to Sea Shepherd Sea Shepherd, who is currently in the Southern Ocean to stop Japanese from whaling in protected waters.
The prosecutors plans to try Vermeulen in an open court. If convicted, he faces up to 2 years in prison and possibly a fine of up to $200,000 Yen (about $2,600 USD).
Vermeulen is accused of pushing a Japanese marine mammal trainer while filming the transfer of a dolphin at the Dolphin Resort Hotel from the sea to holding pens at the resort. The employee claims that Erwin pushed him. However, it is reported that there were no other witnesses to this allegation.
After the arrest of Vermeulen, 20 officers of the Wakayama Prefecture police raided the Charmant Hotel where the Cove Guardians are staying near Taiji Harbor, Japan.
Armed with a warrant, the police seized computers, phones, hard drives, photos, cameras and anything they deemed suspicious.
Also detained by police were three other Cove Guardians members, (Scott, Melissa, and Ron), and Heather from Save Japan Dolphins. Since the raid on Dec. 18, no one has heard from those arrested, according to Nicole MacLaughlan, who managed to get word to the Capt.of the Sea Shepherd. MacLaughlan was leaving the hotel to go to Osaka just as the police raided the hotel.
According to Watson, police gave no reasons for the raid and the Cove Guardians have been careful to not violate local laws.
"In contrast, a recent assault on two female Cove Guardians by a fisherman resulted in the fisherman being questioned and released despite video evidence of the assault," Watson said in a statement to the press. Watson and the Sea Shepherd is currently in the Southern Ocean to stop Japanese from whaling in protected waters.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society got involved with the Cove Guardians in 2003 and 2004 to help stop the slaughter of Dolphins near Taiji, Japan. On Oct. 6, 2003, crewmembers of Sea Shepherd's Taiji Dolphin Campaign filmed and photographed Japanese fishermen slaughtering dolphins in Taiji Harbor. They have supported Cove Guardians' efforts since then.
"It appears that the police are acting out of frustration and desperation with a crackdown against a group that has not committed a single infraction and have operated strictly within the boundaries of Japanese law," said the press release. Watson said Cove Guardians had 65 people this year filming, photographing, and documenting everything the fisherman did.
"Sea Shepherd is anxiously awaiting word of the Cove Guardians’ release from detainment. If there is no word, it will be assumed they have been incarcerated at the jail in Shingu."
"In order to defend Vermeulen and win his freedom, Sea Shepherd is being forced to spend large sums of money from our operating budget on legal fees. This move seems to be at the heart of the Japanese prosecution’s strategy," Watson said.
The trial is scheduled to start on Jan. 25, 2012, and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has retained a reputable law firm for Vermeulen’s defense.
Watson asked that if anyone wants to help with the costs of Vermeulen's defense, he has asked that you visit their Web site at seashepherd.org.