activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

settlement reached in lawsuit seeking to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones

In March 2013, activist Bob Offer-Westort sued San Francisco to stop warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones. The parties put the case on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 25, 2014, in which the court held that searching an arrestee’s cell phone generally requires a warrant. Yesterday Offer-Westort dismissed his case in exchange for the San Francisco Police Department’s agreement to stop conducting warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, however, law enforcement agencies can still demand that cellphone carriers provide subscriber information, including text messages and caller locations. In 2012, cellphone carriers reported that they responded to 1.3 million such demands from law enforcement agencies in 2011. They turned over records thousands of times per day in response to police emergencies, court orders, law enforcement subpoenas, and other requests. According to a New York Times article dated July 9, 2012:

Under federal law, the carriers said they generally required a search warrant, a court order or a formal subpoena to release information about a subscriber. But in cases that law enforcement officials deem an emergency, a less formal request is often enough.

watchlisting guidance sets forth inclusion criteria, evidentiary standards, and procedures for placing individuals on no-fly list

The no-fly list, a secondary watch list derived from the main terrorist watch list, is used to prevent people from boarding aircraft. It consisted of 16 names before September 11, 2001. As of early 2012, it included approximately 21,000 names.

The only requirement for labeling someone a terrorist and barring him or her from flying indefinitely is that a federal agent must believe the person poses a ‘threat’ of engaging in terrorism. The definition of terrorism is broad enough to include civil disobedience. According to today’s press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights,

The criteria for placement on the broader terrorist watchlist, which grew by nearly half a million entries in 2013 alone, are even lower. Social media postings, including, presumably, posts to Facebook and Twitter, can apparently by themselves result in placement on a watchlist, as can “travel for no known lawful or legitimate purpose to a locus of terrorist activity” …

police department attempts to silence twenty-fifth annual school of the americas watch vigil

Created in Panama and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984, the School of the Americas (SOA) trained military leaders from countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in combat and counter-insurgency techniques. Hundreds of the SOA’s graduates went on to become human rights abusers, bolstering military dictatorships by killing, torturing, or otherwise suppressing political opponents. In response, SOA Watch was formed in 1990 to raise awareness regarding the SOA’s activities.

In 2000, the SOA was “replaced” by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which opened in late 2001. Activists seeking to close the school were not deterred, continuing annual vigils at the main gates of Fort Benning to commemorate a 1989 massacre at the University of Central America caused in large part by soldiers trained at the SOA. Yet this year the local police department is attempting to silence the vigil, according to a National Catholic Reporter article:

The police department … has told the movement … that the city would not close the gates of the fort at that location as it has in the past. The city also said it will not close the street to vehicular traffic, that the gathering would have to be limited to 200 people and that they would have to remain on the sidewalks. Chief Ricky Boren also denied permission for a stage and sound system to be erected in its usual spot in the middle of Fort Benning Road.

As SOA Watch organizers and attorneys tackle this problem, you can sign a petition urging the police chief to reconsider.

european court condemns russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court

Today a European court condemned Russia’s practice of putting defendants in metal cages in court as “degrading treatment” and “an affront to human dignity.” The court ordered Russia to pay damages to the two plaintiffs in the case. According to an Associated Press article,

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay 16,000 euros total to plaintiffs Alexander Svinarenko and Valentin Sladnyev. … The ruling could prompt others who have been held in Russian courtroom cages to file similar lawsuits. … Among other defendants who have been held in metal cages are Greenpeace activists, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko and the members of punk group Pussy Riot.

After members of Pussy Riot were held in metal cages in court, two of them were transferred to penal colonies that did not differ significantly from the gulags of the Soviet Union. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova published an open letter describing how prisoners were routinely overworked and kept in inhumane conditions. Prison officials subsequently announced that they would increase prisoners’ wages and decrease working hours.

ontario court orders greenpeace canada to pay legal costs to canada’s largest logging company

Canada’s largest logging company, Resolute Forest Products, filed a $7 million defamation lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada in May 2013. Yesterday an Ontario Divisional Court tribunal ordered Greenpeace Canada to pay $22,000 in legal costs to Resolute. According to Greenpeace Canada,

Resolute, formerly AbitibiBowater, operates and sources from large areas of the Boreal Forest, including in the Montagnes Blanches “Endangered Forest” in Quebec and the Trout Lake-Caribou “Endangered Forest” in Ontario. The company has a long history of unsustainable activities in Canada’s Boreal. It is involved in disputes with First Nations communities for logging in areas without their consent and its operations threaten iconic species such as the woodland caribou.

Legal action of this kind, brought by a corporation against an activist or group opposing the corporation, is referred to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Most SLAPPs are legally meritless but still achieve their purpose, which is to chill public debate regarding an issue (e.g., forest destruction). Greenpeace has 10 days to file a response.

australian activist responsible for fake press release unlikely to spend time in jail

In January 2013, Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release stating that ANZ bank had withdrawn $1.2 billion in financing from Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine. Moylan copied the bank’s logo, used a communications spokesperson’s name, changed his voicemail, and set up a new email address for the prank. Various media outlets ran the story before it was confirmed as a hoax.

Moylan, who had six prior convictions related to environmental protests, pled guilty in May 2014 to disseminating false information to the market. He faced up to 10 years in prison, but the prosecution recently said it would not press for any jail time. According to a June 12 Guardian article, the Front Line Action on Coal camp continues to protest the Maules Creek mine, even though corporate spies apparently infiltrated the camp over the past several months:

The suspected spies spent time with the group, gaining their trust and learning the secrets of the community that is spearheading the resistance. … Many of the community face daily roadblocks, car searches and stops by police as they continue to take action against the winter clearing of the forest. But the activists have no plans to stop.

bolotnaya square protester receives amnesty

For protesting against Putin two years ago, activist Polina Strongina was charged in May with participating in mass riots. Local authorities, however, recently gave her amnesty. According to a St. Petersburg Times article,

Strongina, who became the first St Petersburg activist accused in the politically motivated Bolotnaya case over the alleged mass riots at an anti-Putin protest on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on May 6, 2012, received an amnesty certificate on Saturday, June 28. … Apart from Strongina, two Moscow activists were charged in relation to the Bolotnaya case in Moscow in late May. One of them, Oleg Melnikov, was amnestied on June 25 but the other, Dmitry Ishevsky, who was charged both with participating in mass riots and using violence against the police, has been taken into custody.

Strongina did not provide investigators with the names of any organizers or people at the protest. She first became involved in activism in 2008, after her father’s arm was broken at a Dissenters’ March. The Dissenters’ March was a campaign of mass protests in large Russian cities.

machouf-khadir and philippe-beauchamp acquitted of punching a press photographer

At the height of the student strike in Québec in 2012, Yalda Machouf-Khadir and Xavier Philippe-Beauchamp were charged with punching a press photographer during one of Machouf-Khadir’s court appearances. The two were recently acquitted of such charges. The judge could not find enough evidence to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Machouf-Khadir, an anarchist and the daughter of a prominent left-wing politician, is one of the protesters the University of Montréal sued in June 2013 for apparently damaging dozens of rooms in April 2012. She will be in court again on December 5 to be sentenced in three other cases related to the student strike. According to a May 21 Montréal Gazette article,

Yalda Machouf-Khadir, 20, pleaded guilty to one count of mischief in relation to a protest at the CEGEP du Vieux Montréal on Feb. 16, 2012 during which she and two other people pushed over a soft drink machine to try to block an entrance with it. She also admitted to conspiring to commit mischief, wearing a disguise while committing a criminal act and break and entry when students forcibly occupied and damaged the main pavilion of the Université de Montréal on April 12 and the office of then-education minister Line Beauchamp on April 13.

art is not a crime: charges against four school of the americas watch activists dropped

On May 14, roughly a dozen activists pasted a giant mural on the streets of the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC, to commemorate some of the people who have been murdered at the hands of graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA). Four of the activists were handcuffed, arrested, held for six hours, and charged with “defacing public or private property.” According to School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch),

In response to the attempts by Washington, DC police to silence us, supporters throughout Denver, Colorado, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Los Angeles, California, Takoma Park, Maryland and UC Riverside, California, have put up more posters … to denounce the human rights violations that continue through the training of Latin American military and police at SOA/WHINSEC, funded through US tax dollars.

The charge carried a maximum penalty of 180 days in prison and a $1,000 fine. Yet today all the charges were dropped at the activists’ arraignment. More than 1,200 supporters from across the US and Canada had signed a petition asking the prosecutor, Ron Machen, to drop the charges.

california appeals court unanimously rules that stay-away order was constitutional

On December 30, 2011, police started writing citations against people whose items were on walkways in Oscar Grant Plaza, where Occupy Oakland had set up tents with a city permit. As an Oakland police officer was grappling with a female demonstrator, Cameron Rose allegedly hit the officer in the head with a metal folding chair. Yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle article describes the incident:

When one woman refused an officer’s demand for identification and started to walk away, the officer grabbed her. She struggled, another woman tried to pull her away, and when two more officers grabbed that woman, Rose struck one of them from behind with a steel folding chair, the court said. He fled but was arrested a month later. Ten others had been arrested after the protest.

Rose was acquitted of a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon, but convicted of resisting an officer and misdemeanor assault. The judge did not jail Rose, instead putting him on probation for five years and ordering that he stay out of a six-square-block area in downtown Oakland including City Hall and Oscar Grant Plaza. (Rose was allowed to travel through the restricted area via certain modes of public transportation.) Rose claimed the stay-away order was unconstitutional, but on Thursday a California appeals court unanimously ruled that the restriction was “carefully designed to promote rehabilitation.” According to the court of appeal opinion,

After considering Rose’s volatile and criminal history at that specific location as well as his mental illness, the trial court reasoned that restricting Rose from that small area would help him successfully complete his probation.

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