The first legal hearing in the court case against Taiji Whale Museum began on Friday. The lawsuit asserts that the Taiji Whale Museum violated the Japanese constitution when it turned away foreign visitors earlier this year due to their appearance.
The hearing was an initial hearing, and there are likely to be several more hearings before a judgment is made. In a statement to the court, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Takashi Takano, said, “Is Japan a country open to the world? This is the issue questioned in this case… The museum is a public institute run by our taxes… It is unforgivable for them to accept only those whose thoughts are likable for them. It is against various statutes including the Constitution and International Covenants on Human Rights.”
A statement was given by Sarah Lucas, plaintiff and CEO of Australia for Dolphins. Lucas described visiting the Museum with her father, Alastair Lucas, who is a businessman and philanthropist in Australia. She said that her ticket was purchased by a Japanese colleague and she did not see the ticket officer. However, shortly after entering, Lucas said she and her father were “rudely and aggressively escorted from the premises, and were not offered refunds”. She said that her father and her had been quietly observing the dolphin show and “were not doing anything wrong”.
Lucas said that, as they had been unable to view the museum, she and her father visited again several days later. Lucas said that they had never seen or spoken to the ticket officer on duty before but, with a single glance, the ticket officer produced a sign saying “no anti-whalers are allowed inside the Museum”. Lucas said the sign was written in large English letters and seemed to be intended only for foreigners. She said the ticket officer was not at all rude or impolite, and seemed very reluctant and embarrassed about using the sign.
Lucas said she did not consider herself to be an anti-whaler: “I do not know what the museum means by the term “anti-whaler”, and I do not consider myself to be one. I might be termed “anti-whaling”. I am certainly not “anti-whaler” or anti any other human”.
Counsel for the defendant gave a statement during the hearing and argued that the plaintiffs were denied entry to the museum because they did not obey directions given by the museum officer and would have caused a disruption. However, video evidence was presented to the court, which demonstrated that the plaintiffs were not causing trouble and merely asked the museum attendant if they could buy a ticket.
Lucas said in her statement: “I am concerned about the conditions at the Taiji Whale Museum. It is my view that cetaceans are kept in conditions at the museum which are very cruel. However, this is just my opinion. The point I wish to make is that I would never have disrupted the museum in any way. I would never under any circumstances cause any trouble in or damage to the museum. I am not a disruptive person, and have never made disruptions in any public place, and nor has my father. I believe the museum had no right to assume, based only on a single glance, that my father and I are troublemakers or bad people.”
Lucas said it is important that animal welfare observers are able to enter the Taiji Whale Museum to monitor the dolphins: “In every major zoo and aquarium in Japan and around the world, observers can go in and check on the conditions of the animals. I think it is very important that observers, so long as they behave peacefully and cause no disruption to other visitors, should be allowed to visit.”
Lucas is the CEO of Australia for Dolphins, an organization working to gain legal protection for small cetaceans. She said that “Australia for Dolphins tries to bring an end to dolphin hunting around the world, and in particular in Taiji, because it is simply the worst cruelty that happens to animals in the world. The treatment of dolphins in Taiji would never be permitted in Japan to a cow or a sheep or a pig.”
She added that the “most important principle of Australia for Dolphins is that it always behaves peacefully, respectfully and lawfully.”