Arrest of Famed Dolphin Activist Draws International Outcry

Ric O'Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project, has been detained in Japan for more than week. (Photo: Kathy A. McDonald [CC by 2.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Dolphin activist Ric O'Barry is used to being harassed, interrogated and detained by Japanese authorities. This time, however, the stakes have clearly been raised.

Since Jan. 18, the 76-year-old star of "The Cove" documentary has been held by Japanese airport authorities in a detention center outside Narita International Airport. As he has done many times before O'Barry was in Japan to peacefully protest and raise awareness about the annual bloody dolphin hunts that take place in Taiji, Japan.

“I’m a political prisoner. I think there are higher-ups in government who are cracking down on those who speak out against their war on dolphins,” O’Barry told The Japan Times.

According to O'Barry's lawyer, Japan is accusing O'Barry of lying about his intentions in visiting the country, a charge he vigorously denies. “Never once have I broken the law; never once have I lied to immigration,” he added.

News of O'Barry's arrest has led to international cries for his release, with a petition urging action receiving more than 10,000 signatures. Even the hacking group Anonymous has joined the chorus, claiming to have shut down the website of the Narita airport in Tokyo to protest the arrest.

In a post on The Dolphin Project, the nonprofit founded by O'Barry, his wife Helene expressed concern for her husband's safety while also praising his resolve.

"Make no mistake: Despite long and repeated interrogations, he will not be intimidated into confessing to having broken Japanese laws, because he is guilty of no crime," she writes. "If O'Barry is deported from Japan, it will happen because of a deep-running fear of what might result if more Japanese people learn about the goings-on in Taiji. Fear of truth is a powerful motivator for Japan, it would seem. But the truth cannot be suppressed forever. He will never give up."

According to O'Barry's lawyer, if the activist is deported he may take legal action against the government for the unlawful detention. “Throwing a person like this out of the country gives the world the impression that Japan is not a free country,” Takashi Takano told the Japan Times.