activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: laws that criminalize activists

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.

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.

one person arrested as activists blockade a nato conference in the united kingdom

To greet delegates to a NATO conference that started yesterday, activists hung banners off bridges near the venue and temporarily blockaded the event. Police had to escort cars into the conference. One protester was arrested, apparently for violating the Public Order Act. According to Chloe Marsh from Smash EDO,

Senior NATO and member state officials, parliamentarians, and defence and security experts – responsible for untold death, illegal torture flights, and wars purely to protect Western interests – are gathering right now in Steyning. We are here to oppose them.

Smash EDO is a campaign against the arms trade. Activists have carried on a long-running campaign specifically calling for the closure of EDO, a US-owned arms company that has a factory in Brighton, England.

police detain hundreds of people during annual march against police brutality in montréal

Police detained and ticketed 288 protesters yesterday, at $638 apiece, for participating in a march against police brutality. The march apparently violated Montréal’s bylaw P-6, because no one provided the route to police for approval 24 hours in advance. According today’s Montréal Gazette article,

Police gave protesters at the annual demonstration against police brutality just minutes before the riot squad encircled the crowd and detained 288 people on Saturday. … The protesters were charged under municipal bylaw P-6, which requires organizers of a protest to provide their itinerary to police. … The 288 people detained under bylaw P-6 will receive a ticket for participating in an illegal protest.

First introduced in 2001, a new version of bylaw P-6 went into effect in May 2012. Montréal police have consistently used it against protesters. For example, police ticketed approximately 300 protesters on April 5 and 447 protesters on May 1. In addition to prohibiting masks and blunt objects, bylaw P-6 stipulates that any demonstration can be declared illegal if police have reasonable grounds to believe it will cause a “commotion” or endanger public order.

food not bombs considers legal action against city of columbia, south carolina ordinance

Food Not Bombs (FNB) has been serving food every Sunday for 12 years in Finlay Park in the city of Columbia, South Carolina. Yet tomorrow the city will apparently begin strictly enforcing an anti-homeless ordinance, which requires groups of 25 or more to obtain a permit and pay $120 before they can congregate in a public park. According to yesterday’s ThinkProgress article, stopping groups like FNB may be the point of enforcing the ordinance:

Since the Columbia City Council approved its exile plan in August, the city has been trying to herd its homeless people to a shelter on the outskirts of town and keep them away from downtown. … Columbia is part of an unfortunate trend of cities that have decided to crack down on charity groups that feed the homeless. Others that have passed or are considering ordinances include RaleighSt. LouisHarrisburg, and Los Angeles.

The local FNB group is considering legal action to prevent enforcement of the ordinance. In June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of FNB against the city of Flagstaff, Arizona. On October 4, a judge ruled that a 1988 anti-begging law was unconstitutional, and prohibited Flagstaff from “interfering with, targeting, citing, arresting, or prosecuting any person on the basis of their act(s) of peaceful begging in public areas.”

egyptian court finds seven activists guilty of violating new anti-protest law

Today a court in Alexandria, Egypt convicted seven activists of organizing an unauthorized protest on December 2, 2013. The activists were sentenced to two years for organizing the protest and, during the protest, allegedly blocking roads, attacking law enforcement officials, and destroying a police vehicle. A new law, passed in November, bans all demonstrations except when protesters receive permission from police in advance.

The December 2 protest, organized without prior permission, occurred outside a courthouse during the retrial of two police officers who were previously found guilty of manslaughter for beating Khaled Said to death in June 2010. Said became the icon of the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. The seven activists convicted today had participated in that uprising, like the three anti-government activists convicted under the same anti-protest law on December 22.

In addition to the two-year sentences, the activists were each ordered to pay approximately $7,200 in fines. They are expected to appeal the verdict. Meanwhile, the prosecution has ordered the arrest of up to five of the seven activists, including Hassan Mostafa, who is apparently on the run.

arrest warrants issued for two egyptian activists on charges of violating anti-protest law

Yesterday arrest warrants were issued for two prominent Egyptian activists, Hassan Mostafa and Mahinour El-Masry, who allegedly violated a recently passed anti-protest law. The activists had attended a protest during the retrial of two police officers previously found guilty of manslaughter for beating Khaled Said to death in June 2010. According to today’s Ahram Online article,

The protest law requires three days’ prior notification to authorities before any public gathering with more than 10 people can be held. Violators of the law are subject to jail terms and fines. The law also grants police the right to disperse protests, with birdshot if necessary.

Mostafa was just released from jail approximately four months ago. On March 12, Mostafa was convicted of insulting and attacking a prosecutor, but on July 7 the prosecutor withdrew his complaint. Mostafa remained in preventive detention, however, until his release in August pending a trial in November, in which Mostafa was acquitted of inciting people to block a railway and helping 10 detainees escape.

committee that backed sit/lie ordinance in berkeley violated local election laws

A sit/lie law on the ballot in Berkeley last year would have made it a crime to sit on sidewalks in the city’s commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. The proposal, which involved citations and a possible maximum sentence of six months in jail, was ultimately defeated in November 2012. Yesterday the East Bay Express reported that the Yes on Measure S committee backing the ordinance violated local election laws:

The campaign violations also have stirred controversy in Berkeley because some of the payments handed out on Election Day allegedly went to homeless people who were paid to distribute fliers in favor of an ordinance that would have made it illegal to sit on city sidewalks. Opponents of Measure S say that homeless workers were duped into thinking that they were campaigning for President Obama’s reelection.

Berkeley’s ethics commission plans to fine the Yes on Measure S committee for failing to report more than 50 cash payments to people to hand out fliers on Election Day. The man who made the payments, a member of the Berkeley Democratic Club (which endorsed the proposed ordinance), said he paid cash because he thought many of the people did not have bank accounts.

The proposed sit/lie law also would have criminalized activists for sitting on commercial district sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. during, for example, unpermitted demonstrations or encampments. Similar laws exist in approximately three dozen cities across the U.S.

new report on human rights violations during turkey’s response to gezi park protests

In late May, police used tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons in an attempt to break up demonstrations in Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, Turkey. Early one morning, police also set fire to the tents of protesters occupying the park. The number of protesters then increased significantly due to public outrage regarding the force used by police.

Mass protests spread to several other cities. On June 1, a police officer shot Ethem Sarısülük in the head with a live bullet during protests in Ankara. On June 3, 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert was apparently hit with a tear gas canister fired by police. The same day, 19-year-old Ismail Korkmaz was running away from police intervention at a protest in Eskişehir when he was brutally beaten by people in civilian clothes.

Cömert died on June 4. Sarısülük died on June 14. Korkmaz died on July 10, and five individuals (including one police officer) were subsequently charged with his murder.

By mid-June, hundreds of thousands of people had participated in ‘Gezi Park protests,’ which occurred in nearly every one of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Large scale protest continued across Turkey into early July. By July 10, more than 8,000 injuries had occurred at the protests.

Yet the repression isn’t over. Many of the people accused of organizing the protests are currently being investigated under anti-terrorism laws and related provisions. According to a report released this week by Amnesty International,

These provisions, which carry harsh penalties, are often used to prosecute critics of the state for conduct and the expression of views protected by the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. All the indicators available so far point to similar abusive use of anti-terrorism provisions in the context of Gezi Park protests.

political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual laws that criminalize activists: a case study

On Thursday, the Berkeley Daily Planet published activist Carol Denney’s account of receiving a ticket last year for demonstrating against a proposed sit/lie law, which was ultimately defeated in November. On November 4, two days before the election, Denney sat on a chair on the sidewalk and played the fiddle with other musicians. According to her article,

We were trying to illustrate that simply sitting on a chair playing music, perfectly legal behavior under the law, would become a crime in two days if Measure S were to pass. … I had checked the law, checked with attorneys, planned every aspect of the demonstration so that no one and no one’s instruments would be jeopardized.

Yet a police officer gave Denney a ticket for obstructing the sidewalk. Two attorneys had tried to explain to the officer that she was misapplying the law, but her supervisor arrived and argued with them. The prosecutor ended up dropping the case after a couple of court dates. Denney concludes that the officers either don’t understand the law or are indifferent to it:

People can’t be accused of blocking a sidewalk for just being there, or for having a backpack or other personal items beside them, the law makes clear. But the police either don’t realize that or realize it and don’t care what the law actually says or what it was intended to do.

Every law that criminalizes activists is another tool officers can use in their attempts to disrupt demonstrations, so it was a victory that the proposed sit/lie law was defeated in November. But political repression does not wax and wane with the passage and repeal of individual laws that criminalize activists. This is because there are countless laws available for police to use against activists, such as other laws criminalizing homeless people that lend themselves to selective enforcement.