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Parents of naval officer jailed in Japan plead with Biden to secure his release in talks with Japanese PM
January 11 2023, 08:00

The parents of a Navy lieutenant serving a three-year jail sentence in Japan pleaded with President Biden to secure their son's release ahead of his upcoming meeting with Japanese officials later this week.

Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, who is based out of Yokosuka Naval Base, was convicted of negligent driving by Japanese courts in October 2021 after he was involved in a vehicle accident that year that resulted in the deaths of two people. As Biden prepares to welcome Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to the White House on Friday, Alkonis's parents are urging the president to make their son's return to the States a top priority of the meeting between both leaders.

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"The next piece of this is to talk with the Japanese and get them to understand and be direct…that this is wrong, and this is not a crime," Ridge's father Derek Alkonis said Tuesday in an interview on "America Reports." "Even though he was treated like a criminal throughout this process, but nonetheless, this was an accident caused by a medical condition, an emergency…there were things that went wrong throughout this process, and now it needs to be righted."

Alkonis's car crash happened after he fell unconscious behind the wheel due to a medical episode. He was arrested at the scene but was never released from detention, his parents said.

Alkonis was later diagnosed with acute mountain illness, which can last for an entire day and prompt sudden fainting. But despite the diagnosis and no suspicions of driving under the influence, a Japanese court convicted him of negligent driving, which carried a three-year prison sentence. 

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"The hard part about this whole story is that it took quite a long time to find out what did happen because he was held in solitary confinement for almost three weeks… before he was able to be examined, and we received the diagnosis," his mother Suzi Alkonis told Fox News host Sandra Smith. 

"It was just a fluke. It’s not a fluke that doesn’t happen to other people. We have heard countless stories since our story has gone public of other people who have similarly had problems behind the wheel. The difference here is that he was put in prison for it, even though it’s not a crime in Japan," she said.

The Alkonises expressed their gratitude to Sen. Mike Lee, who has made it his personal mission to ensure that the naval officer's wife and three children, who still reside in Japan, will continue to receive military pay throughout his detainment as part of an amendment in the federal omnibus budget bill. 

Derek Alkonis said the Defense Department was willing to kick their son "to the curb" and suspend any financial compensation before Lee and other Republican lawmakers intervened. 

"They have supported us through this process, and it’s because of their efforts that Ridge and his family will continue to be paid even though the DOD was attempting to kick them to the curb. And so that support has been wonderful," he said.

Derek and Suzi Alkonis said they hope President Biden will heed their calls to raise the issue with Japanese officials and bring their son home.

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"We know that the Japanese prime minister is coming and we hope that President Biden will engage and will be direct and say this has gone on too long, this is unfair, and bring Ridge home immediately."

"He's been in prison for almost six months…," his father said, "and it’s time to bring him home."