Congress Member Asks State Department to Help Dolphin Activist Held in Japan

Immigration officials have detained Ric O’Barry at Tokyo’s Narita Airport since Monday.
Ric O’Barry in Japan during the 2014–15 Taiji dolphin hunt. (Photo: Courtesy
Jan 19, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

A California representative has requested that United States diplomatic officials intervene in the detention of an American environmental activist at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.

Jack d’Annibale, the director of communications for Rep. Ted Lieu, confirmed on Tuesday that in response to a request from the California Democrat’s office, the U.S. State Department has asked Japanese officials to immediately release Ric O’Barry, who has been held at the airport since arriving on Monday afternoon.

Ric O’Barry is a longtime leader of opposition to an annual dolphin drive and hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji. The hunt, which was brought to worldwide attention in the 2009 documentary The Cove, results in thousands of dolphins being killed for meat or captured for sale to aquariums and marine parks.

“We don’t believe there’s any reason for him to be stopped at immigration,” said O’Barry’s son, Lincoln O’Barry. “He’s always been very careful not to violate any laws and to work with the legal system in Japan.”

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The State Department would not confirm that it had intervened on O’Barry’s behalf, citing privacy concerns.

Americans do not need visas to enter Japan for visits of under 90 days, according to the website of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

O’Barry’s efforts to stop the Taiji hunt are featured in The Cove, and Japanese immigration officials have challenged his entry into the country as a tourist based in part on his presence in the documentary, said his son.

“[Japanese] immigration says the reason is that he made The Cove, which is not true. He was in the film but not part of the production company,” said Lincoln O’Barry. “They also say he’s part of Sea Shepherd,” an environmental group well known for interfering with Japan’s whale hunts, “which is not true.”

O’Barry is being held in a “deportees facility” at Narita Airport “that is more like a jail than a hotel,” his son said.

A lawyer has appealed Ric O’Barry’s detention to the Japanese courts, he added, but if officials succeed in their deportation effort, the senior O’Barry will not be able to reenter Japan for five years or more.

“This is another form of the government trying to hide what’s going on in Taiji,” he said.