activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: restrictions on free speech

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.

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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.

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.

novartis obtains extended court order to restrict anyone protesting against animal research

Novartis, which already had an injunction against members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), obtained an extension today to cover anyone protesting animal research. The court order blocks animal rights demonstrations at the company’s U.K. facilities or against any of its employees. According to a Bloomberg article,

The order bars harassment or intimidation of Novartis employees, including abusive or threatening posts on websites or social media. The order also restricts demonstrations to six people or fewer, in designated protest zones, with no amplified sounds, and forbids costumes, face-coverings or “blood-splattered costumes.” Anyone breaching the injunction can be arrested.

At least 18 companies have obtained injunctions from British courts against SHAC. After the conviction of SHAC activist Debbie Vincent last month, Novartis allegedly wanted protection from any backlash. The injunction is temporary and there will be a trial to determine whether it remains in place.

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.

dylan powell given thirty days to pay marineland’s court costs

Last week Justice Richard Lococo ordered Dylan Powell, co-founder of Marineland Animal Defense (MAD), to pay Marineland’s court costs related to legal action the theme park brought against Powell in December. The legal action succeeded in limiting MAD’s protest activities, as Lococo imposed new restrictions on MAD in August. Lococo’s August 9 order effectively criminalized leafleting at the Marineland entrance and exit, prevented activists from using megaphones on site, and prohibited signs that included the words “abuse,” “torture,” “criminal,” “animal abuse,” or “arrest John Holer” – the owner of Marineland.

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). In this case, Marineland had requested that Lococo order Powell to pay more than $24,000 in fees or costs. In deciding on $10,000 instead, Lococo considered Powell’s lack of wealth.

Powell says he doesn’t have $10,000, so Marineland’s request for court costs may be a pyrrhic victory for the notorious theme park.

activist who revealed psuedonym of undercover officer could face up to six months in jail

Julian Ichim was one of the first people arrested during the June 2010 G20 protests in Toronto, for allegedly masterminding the riots that overtook downtown. The charges against him were dropped fewer than six months later. Yet Ichim was charged again after he violated a “publication ban” by revealing the alias of undercover officer Bindo Showan, who infiltrated activist groups and testified against alleged G20 conspirators.

The maximum punishment for violating a publication ban is six months in jail. But the Crown charged Ichim with violating a court order, a violation carrying a maximum punishment of two years. Yesterday Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley ruled that the Crown could only charge Ichim with the lesser offense carrying the potential six month sentence.

As a person affiliated with the G20 protests, Ichim contended that he was being prosecuted for political reasons. He is currently suing law enforcement related to infiltration, excessive force, and jail conditions surrounding the G20. According to yesterday’s Toronto Star article,

Ichim is … pursuing a $4-million lawsuit against the undercover officer, the province and the Toronto police force. He alleges that Showan, who he once considered a good friend, crossed a legal line by encouraging criminal acts and driving drunk ahead of the G20 summit. The notice of claim also alleges Ichim was beaten by Toronto police and underwent “cruel and unusual treatment” in the G20 temporary jail.

woodford county jail bans books in response to activists posting wish list

Arrested in rural Illinois on August 14, two animal rights activists, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, have been charged with “possession of burglary tools.” Police allegedly found bolt cutters, wire cutters, ski masks, camouflage clothing, and muriatic acid – a substance that can be used to destroy masks or clothing or damage documents or vehicles – in their car. They are being held at Woodford County Jail, a small jail in Eureka, Illinois.

On August 17, the judge set bail for Lang and Olliff at $100,000 and $200,000, respectively. Lang is apparently not receiving vegan food, meaning he’s had to purchase expensive food from the jail commissary. He’s also being held in a small cell block with three other prisoners, apart from the general population, perhaps because this is the only way to keep him separated from Olliff.

Now, hours after the activists’ book wish list was posted, the jail has announced a new rule banning books. Yet the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal court with jurisdiction in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, ruled in King v. Federal Bureau of Prisons (2005) that while there may be valid reasons for limiting an inmate’s access to certain kinds of books, the refusal to allow an inmate to obtain a book, without evidence justifying the restriction, infringes on the inmate’s freedom of speech. According to a subsequent Seventh Circuit opinion, Munson v. Gaetz (2012), which quotes the opinion in King,

A prison’s refusal to allow an inmate access to a book “presents a substantial First Amendment issue. Freedom of speech is not merely freedom to speak; it is also freedom to read.” … Forbidding someone the right to read shuts “him out of the marketplace of ideas and opinions,” which is what the Free Speech Clause protects.

judge imposes new restrictions on marineland animal defense in niagara falls, ontario

Marineland Animal Defense is a Niagara Animal Defense League campaign with the goal of ending animal captivity at Marineland, a theme park in the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario. On Friday, a judge imposed new restrictions on the campaign, preventing activists from using megaphones on site or signs that include the words “abuse,” “torture,” “criminal,” “animal abuse,” or “arrest John Holer” – the owner of Marineland. The court order also effectively criminalizes leafleting at the Marineland entrance and exit, because it restrains activists from “hindering or impeding any guest of Marineland or anyone entering or exiting Marineland or indicating an intention to enter Marineland.”

As a result of the court order, Marineland Animal Defense canceled a demonstration set for tonight at the Niagara Falls City Council. But a co-founder of the group, Dylan Powell, has made it clear that the campaign will continue. According to his statement regarding the court order,

We knew from the beginning – way back in 2010 – that if we were effective we would face the weight of the legal system as a result. Marineland Canada has a history of being litigious and using the legal system as a weapon. It is now August 2013 and we still have the right to demonstrate on site and we still have the right to continue to raise awareness about this industry with the goal of [its] abolition.

One of the animals confined at Marineland is Kiska, the only remaining orca whale there, who was captured in the wild at age 3. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are used to living in thousands of miles of ocean in long-term social groups called pods. When held in captivity, these highly-intelligent and highly-socialized mammals suffer physical and mental distress, which apparently drives them to aggressive behavior.

Marineland has exhibited 29 orcas since it opened, but 26 of them have died. Of the remaining 3 orcas, 2 were relocated to SeaWorld. Of the 26 deceased orcas, 5 were Kiska’s children, none of whom lived longer than 6 years. The average lifespan for orcas in the wild is 30 years for males and 50 years for females.

cook county cannot prosecute people for recording the audible communications of police

In 1994, the Illinois legislature amended the Illinois Eavesdropping Act such that it became a felony to openly record the audible communications of law enforcement officers, or others whose communications were incidentally captured, when the officers were engaged in their official duties in public. This week U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve signed an order permanently enjoining the State’s Attorney of Cook County from enforcing the Act against any person who openly records such communications. Even the State’s Attorney agreed that the section of the Act at issue violated the First Amendment.

Although the First Amendment protects one’s right to openly document officers’ behavior in public, by way of audio or video recording, officers often fabricate criminal offenses to arrest people for doing so. They also routinely lie under oath to ensure that, once arrested, people are convicted. According to the People’s Law Office,

Would-be cop watchers and observers should, as always, take note that while Monday’s order may make that activity technically safe from prosecution, police may still respond negatively or aggressively to being recorded. In such a case, a slew of discretionary charges … (obstructing a peace officer and resisting a peace officer), as well as other malleable charges like disorderly conduct, are available to police and prosecutors and are frequently used to punish lawful conduct.