activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: criminal charges against activists

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.

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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.”

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.

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.

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.

cambodian protesters in custody since january given suspended sentences and freed

On January 3, Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles to quell a strike by garment factory workers who make clothes for corporations such as Gap, Nike, and H&M. The police killed at least three people. According to today’s Malay Mail article,

Cambodia’s textile industry provides clothes and footwear for many in the West and employs some 650,000 local people. Workers have staged months of strikes and street protest demanding better safety standards and a doubling of the minimum wage to US$160 a month, or about US$8 a day. So far the government has offered them US$100.

Since January 3, 23 protesters have been in custody for allegedly causing damage and acts of violence. Their trial started on April 25 and ended today. The arrestees were found guilty but received suspended sentences, ranging from one to four and a half years, meaning they could walk free.

criminal proceedings initiated against another bolotnaya square protester in russia

For protesting against Putin two years ago, activist Polina Strongina was charged yesterday with participating in mass riots. She faces three to eight years in prison. According to a St. Petersburg Times article,

The rally on Bolotnaya Square was held one day before the inauguration of Vladimir Putin for his third term as Russian President and ended with hundreds of anti-government protesters arrested. Criminal proceedings were subsequently initiated against 28 people, known as the “Bolotnaya prisoners.” On Feb. 24, the court sentenced seven Bolotnaya Case [defendants], who had spent a year and a half in custody by that time, to prison terms of between two and a half and four years.

After her partner’s apartment was searched, Strongina was interrogated over the course of several hours at the offices of the counter-extremism center, without her lawyer present. She was released on the conditions that she behave in an orderly manner and not leave St. Petersburg. Authorities forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, preventing her from discussing specifics regarding the search or interrogation.