activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

venezuelan president offers to release opposition leader in exchange for oscar lópez rivera

Oscar López Rivera was convicted of conspiring against the U.S. government as part of the FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation), a Puerto Rican nationalist group. He was arrested in 1981, tried for seditious conspiracy, convicted, and sentenced to 55 years in prison. As his co-defendants had done, he presented no defense and pursued no appeal.

In 1987, López Rivera received an additional 15-year sentence for conspiracy to escape. He is the longest held Puerto Rican political prisoner in the history of Puerto Rico’s independence movement. According to a May 29 Mother Jones article by Shane Bauer,

In all, the FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings across the US between 1974 and 1983, leading to the death of six and the injury of dozens. But the basis for López’s conviction was specifically the more than two-dozen bombings claimed by the organization in the Chicago area, none of which resulted in injuries. A 1980 Chicago Tribune editorial observed that the bombs were “placed and timed as to damage property rather than persons” and that the FALN was “out to call attention to their cause rather than to shed blood.”

Yesterday Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered to release opposition leader Leopoldo López if the U.S. releases López Rivera, whose 72nd birthday is tomorrow.

judith clark’s request for clemency denied

Judith Clark has been incarcerated since her participation in the 1981 Brink’s armored-car robbery in Rockland County, New York, in which two police officers and an armored-car guard were killed. Yesterday her request for clemency was denied. According to a January 12, 2012 New York Times Magazine article,

At trial, Clark and two other defendants — David Gilbert, a Weather Underground member, and Kuwasi Balagoon, a former Black Panther — boycotted the courtroom, listening to the piped-in testimony from their basement cells. … After the judge sentenced Clark along with Gilbert and Balagoon to spend their lives in prison, [Kathy] Boudin pleaded guilty and received 20 years to life; she was paroled in 2003 and reunited with her 23-year-old son, who was 14 months old at the time of the crime.

Clark, who does not identify as a political prisoner, also had an infant at the time of the incident. Gilbert, like Clark, is still in prison. Balagoon died while serving his sentence.

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2014 posts

NATO 3: On February 7, the jury in the NATO 3 trial acquitted the defendants of all the terrorism charges and the solicitation to commit arson charge. The jury found the defendants guilty of mob action, possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson, and possession of an incendiary device with the knowledge that another intended to commit arson. On April 25, Brian Jacob Church was sentenced to five years, Brent Betterly to six years, and Jared Chase to eight years. Church is now in a halfway house.

Debbie Vincent: Following the conviction of SHAC activist Debbie Vincent in March, she was sentenced to six years in prison in April.

Robert Birgeneau: After Haverford students planned to protest former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who Haverford College invited to speak at commencement, Birgeneau backed out in May. Condoleezza Rice, who Rutgers University invited to speak at commencement, also backed out this year after students and faculty organized a campaign citing her role in the Iraq war. International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, who Smith College invited to speak at commencement, backed out too after nearly 500 people signed an online petition.

Holly Nguyen and Maya Land: On September 8, Holly Nguyen and Maya Land, the two UC San Diego students who allegedly set fires to prevent a Starbucks from opening on campus, pled guilty to reckless endangerment. They were ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluations and spend 20 days in jail. They will also be on probation for 18 months and have to spend 30 days doing “public service.”

School of the Americas Watch vigil: Although Fort Benning officials and the Columbus police tried to shut down the 25th annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil in November, they backed down following a coordinated grassroots pressure campaign.

Food Not Bombs: After Ft. Lauderdale approved an ordinance outlawing most food sharings in public parks, people protested, tried to meet with city officialswere cited for giving out food, temporarily stopped eating, and crashed Ft. Lauderdale’s website. On December 2, the day after Anonymous crashed the city’s website, a judge in Florida issued a 30-day ban on enforcement of the ordinance.

Procter & Gamble protest: Initially charged with two felonies and facing up to nine and a half years in prison, most of the activists who protested against rainforest destruction at Procter & Gamble headquarters this past spring pled guilty to misdemeanor trespassing on December 12. They were sentenced to complete 80 hours of community service. (One of the activists accepted a previous pleas deal, and another, Tyler Wilkerson, passed away on October 6.)

November 2011 Occupy Cal lawsuit: On December 12, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed claims against several police officers and one UC Berkeley administrator in a lawsuit regarding excessive force during the November 2011 Occupy Cal protests. Claims against other officers and administrators, including former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, will proceed.

No-Tav: On December 29, the additional charges recently brought against three No-TAV activists currently in custody were dropped. This court decision followed disruption of rail services last week in many parts of Italy after an arson attack, blamed on protesters, on Bologna’s Santa Viola station. Four other activists facing similar charges were recently convicted and sentenced to prison terms of three years and six months each.

Christopher Wahmhoff: After spending approximately 10 hours inside an Enbridge oil pipeline in June 2013, Christopher Wahmhoff was convicted on December 16 of trespassing and resisting police. On December 29, Wahmhoff was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay fines and costs of $908. Restitution has yet to be determined. According to one of the protesters outside the courthouse before Wahmhoff’s sentencing,

When the state convicts people who are protesting for the health of the community, … it’s betraying the community.

three no-tav activists currently in custody will soon face additional charges

Lucio Alberti, Graziano Mazarelli, and Francesco Sala were arrested last year related to protests against a high-speed railway being built between Lyon, France and Turin, Italy. Currently in custody, they face charges of producing dangerous weapons and carrying them in a public place. Following investigations by national anti-terrorism squads, the three will soon face additional charges related to an attack in May 2013 at a railway work site. According to an Italian news agency article,

Police at the time said roughly 30 hooded vandals broke into the construction site under the cover of nightfall and tore down fences and blocked machinery. In a nearby incident, several other activists confronted police with fireworks and Molotov cocktails. The incident “was an attack on the State, its choices and basic interests,” prosecutors argued.

At last month’s trial of four other activists facing similar charges, prosecutors sought sentences of up to nine years. The railway has sparked protests since 1994 due to its high cost and damage to the environment. Italian activist Riccardo Carraro wrote in October 2013 that the government has “cracked down on the protests, wounding many, indicting more than 900 activists,” and heavily militarized the valley “while deploying thousands of policemen and soldiers to defend the construction.”

activist who discovered the father of her son was an undercover officer settles legal claim

Bob Lambert, an undercover officer, posed as an animal rights activist in the 1980s. Green Party politician Caroline Lucas has named Lambert, who infiltrated the ALF, as the undercover officer who allegedly planted a bomb at a department store in 1987. Like several other undercover officers in the UK between the mid-1980s and 2010, he apparently deceived women into developing long-term sexual relationships with him.

Though he was already married with two children, Lambert fathered a child with one of the women before disappearing in 1989. The woman didn’t discover he was an undercover officer until 2012. She is one of at least 12 women who sued for the trauma they suffered after having intimate relationships with undercover officers.

Her case was the first to settle. According to yesterday’s Guardian article,

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous and is known by the name Jacqui, said the out-of-court settlement in which the Met would pay her £425,000 would not bring closure for her as the force had not admitted wrongdoing.

Police chiefs have maintained that the undercover officers were not permitted to have sexual relationships with the people on whom they were spying. Yet such relationships were routine, often lasting several years.

fort lauderdale commissioners approve ordinance that restricts food not bombs

At a meeting that began Tuesday and ended at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Fort Lauderdale commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of regulations regarding how food may be served in the downtown area. The ordinance will officially become law on October 31. According to yesterday’s Broward/Palm Beach New Times article,

The new ordinance deals primarily with how groups go about serving food to the homeless, such as rules on food handling, providing toilet facilities and hand-washing areas, and requirements on how and when the food should be served, particularly for groups that service the homeless outdoors and in parks. Homeless advocates say the restrictions are too cumbersome…

This is the fifth ordinance in the past six months that criminalizes homeless people or their allies in Fort Lauderdale. For example, commissioners recently passed an ordinance authorizing police to confiscate a homeless person’s possessions after a 24-hour notice, and keep them until the person pays a fee or proves that he or she can’t afford it. Food Not Bombs has invited anyone who disagrees with the ‘sharing ban’ to show up in costume on October 31 and openly feed homeless people.

activists file false arrest lawsuit against new york city

On November 1, 2011, 28 people were arrested for demonstrating outside a police station in Brooklyn. Yesterday 17 of them, who had to make numerous court appearances before their criminal charges were dismissed, filed a lawsuit against New York City. According to a New York Daily News article,

Ten minutes into the protest, the suit alleges, NYPD Capt. William Gardner ordered the arrests of 28 people including the plaintiffs on charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration. “Their attempt to squelch plaintiffs’ speech and discourage future dissent is reprehensible,” the lawsuit says.

The activists were protesting the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. In an important ruling on August 12, 2013, a federal judge found the NYPD liable for a pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional stop-and-frisks. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument on the police unions’ appeal on October 15, 2014.

québec court of appeal refuses to hear case brought against canadian community group

Having identified recurring problems in a landlord’s building, including cockroaches, mold, dirt, and doors that never locked, a Canadian community group called Oeil distributed leaflets to tenants and successfully represented a tenant against the landlord at the rent board. In 2012, the landlord’s family sued Oeil for defamation, seeking $5.6 million. According to yesterday’s CTV News article, two courts have now rejected the lawsuit:

With the help of a social activist lawyer, Oeil managed to have the lawsuit tossed out because it was considered abusive, and meant to ruin the organization with legal fees. It’s commonly called a SLAPP lawsuit. Last month the Quebec court of Appeal also refused to hear the … case.

Oeil is now entitled to reimbursement for its court costs and legal fees from the landlord’s family.

activists involved in banner action against proctor and gamble scheduled to go to trial

In May 2013, Greenpeace contacted Proctor & Gamble regarding its palm oil sourcing practices. After a year-long investigation into P&G suppliers, Greenpeace linked P&G to palm oil suppliers in Indonesia that apparently engaged in destructive deforestation, clearing of endangered animal habitat, and potentially illegal forest fires. On March 4, activists slipped into P&G in downtown Cincinnati and hung banners from the company’s office towers that criticized its palm oil sourcing practices.

The nine activists allegedly involved in the March 4 action faced felony burglary and vandalism charges. Only one of them was willing to accept the plea deal offered by the prosecution, so the rest are scheduled to go to trial on October 27. According to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) publication titled Criminalizing America,

… the size and scope of criminal law has expanded so greatly that it has become a tool for regulating behavior that elected officials and unelected bureaucrats deem undesirable.

(ALEC is a pro-business organization comprised of legislative and corporate members who espouse free-market, limited-government policies. It is one of the groups that pushed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act through Congress.)

In April, P&G agreed to have 100% sustainably purchased palm and palm kernel oil by 2015, and 100% recycled or third-party certified paper products by 2020.

officer who turned activist’s bike upside down without consent conducted an unlawful search

On May 20, a Santa Ana police officer cited outspoken activist Igmar Rodas for riding an unlicensed bicycle. The Santa Ana municipal code prohibits riding a bike that has not been registered. On Wednesday, however, a judge ruled that the officer conducted an unlawful search by turning Rodas’s bike upside down without his consent. According to the Just Cause Law Collective,

Law enforcement officers can search without a warrant under a wide variety of circumstances. Among these, there’s only one situation in which you have any chance of preventing the intrusion—and that’s by saying “I don’t consent” when the police ask whether they can search. This is a powerful tool for using your civil rights, as important as remaining silent and asking to see a lawyer.

The judge upheld another citation Rodas received, though, for bicycling on a sidewalk in a business district. Rodas said he went on the sidewalk to get out of the officers’ way. He plans to appeal.


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