A pair of Democratic lawmakers from California have asked President Joe Biden to reopen the case of a US Navy officer imprisoned in Japan along with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida while at the Group of Seven Hiroshima summit.
In a Friday letter addressed to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, US Sen. Alex Padilla and US Rep. Mike Levin said that “while we understand the sensitive nature of this case” around Lt. Ridge Alkonis, “it is important to resolve this situation immediately to prevent further irritants in US-Japan relations.”
“Lieutenant Alkonis served almost a year in a Japanese prison after being involved in a tragic and unexpected car accident due to a medical emergency he suffered while driving. Despite your repeated interventions from your Administration, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Ambassador Rahm Emanuel. The case of Lieutenant Alkonis remains stalled in the Japanese system,” the couple wrote.
CNN has reached out to the White House for a response.
Alkonis, who was stationed in Japan, was sentenced to three years in prison in Japan in October 2021 for negligent driving that resulted in the death of two people and the injury of a third person in May 2021. CNN previously reported that Alkonis said he suffered severe mountain sickness while he was driving with his family from Mount Fuji, which caused him to lose consciousness. That argument was rejected by the court, and his appeal was denied in July 2022.
Biden raised the Alkonis case with Kishida during the prime minister’s visit to the White House in January, and the two countries agreed to form a working group to resolve the problem. But Alkonis has since expressed despair about his condition, according to a handwritten letter to his wife.
“I don’t like that,” he wrote in a letter dated April 30, which was shared by CNN. “The walls and bars seem to be making my cell even smaller lately.”
His family requested that he be transferred back to the US under the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, which would allow him to serve his sentence there.
Alkonis’ wife, Brittany Alkonis, told CNN earlier this week that parts of the US government were “incredibly active” in that request but admitted that the US Department of Defense as well as the Japanese government were not productively engaged. . Ridge Alkonis was not designated as wrongfully imprisoned by the US State Department.
“Prison is always a tough place. You know, he talks about how anything that brings you joy is not allowed. He says it’s just soul-crushing,” Brittany Alkonis told CNN.
“Lieutenant Alkonis’ service record makes it clear that he is an exceptional officer, and we believe he deserves better,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “We ask that you press for the prisoner’s immediate transfer under the European Council on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, so that he, his wife, and their three young children can be reunited with California.”
Brittany Alkonis and her children were able to visit Ridge Alkonis every few weeks in jail, with the current setup allowing for five half-hour visits per month, she said. Her children – all under the age of ten – are “paying the price” for this challenging situation, she said.
“They were hurt. They are trying to understand it. We always talk about it,” said Brittany Alkonis. “But my son asked me the other day, he said, ‘Mom, you said the president was coming home to dad, so why isn’t he home yet.'”
This story has been updated with additional details.