US Court Jails Animal Rights Activists
UPI Homeland and National Security Editor
Washington (UPI) Sep 13, 2006
A federal court in Trenton, N.J., is sentencing a group of animal rights activists for their part in a Web-based campaign of violence and intimidation against a company that conducts medical experiments on animals. Three members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC, an international network of campaigners, were sentenced Tuesday, and a fourth Wednesday, receiving jail terms of between three and six years.
All four are also liable to pay a million-dollar restitution order against their group, awarded to the target of their campaign, Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British medical research facility owned by New Jersey-based Life Sciences Research, Inc.
Six members of the group, all in their late 20's and early 30's, became in March the first defendants convicted of offences under the Animal Enterprises Protection Act -- a 1992 law that made it a federal crime to engage in "physical disruption" of animal research facilities, farms, circuses, fairs or other businesses using live animals.
The six were also convicted under federal anti-stalking and telephone harassment laws.
The two remaining defendants will be sentenced next week, bringing to a conclusion a case that has drawn widespread attention, both because of the novelty of prosecutions under the 1992 act and because of the enormous success of the anti-Huntingdon campaign, which continued even after the arrests of its leaders and which last year forced the New York Stock Exchange to cancel a scheduled listing of Life Sciences Research, Inc.
According to evidence in the trial, the campaign included the posting on the SHAC Web site of individual employees' personal information, including their home addresses and phone numbers; the names and ages of their children and where they go to school; their license plate numbers and the churches they go to.
Victims of the SHAC campaign have been assaulted with baseball bats, had their homes and cars vandalized, have had obscene messages painted in their street, received late night telephone calls threatening the lives of their family and subjected to non-stop bullhorn protests in front of their homes.
This week's sentences come as legislation designed to strengthen the 1992 act is being mulled in Congress.
Both House and Senate Judiciary Committees had scheduled mark-ups of a new Animal Enterprise Terrorism bill Wednesday. The bills were not considered by either committee in the end, because lawmakers spent the time wrangling over legislation on the National Security Agency's program of warrantless counter-terrorist wiretaps instead.
Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a group that lobbies on behalf of animal experimentation and has pushed for the new law, told United Press International that the mark-ups would likely be rescheduled for next week "or even sooner" and she remained optimistic that the bill would get passage in both chambers before the end of the year.
The bill would criminalize campaigns directed against those who do business with animal researchers -- like the stock exchange -- and those against individual employees, neither of which are covered by the 1992 law. The new bill would also outlaw harassment and intimidation that might financially cripple a company without any "physical disruption."
Last year one of the Justice Department's senior counter-terrorism officials, Barry Rubin, told lawmakers that animal rights extremists were carefully planning their campaigns to exploit what he called "limits and ambiguities" in the existing law.
"The FBI's efforts ... have been hindered by a lack of applicable federal criminal statutes," added the bureau's Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis at the same Senate hearing, calling it "particularly frustrating."
"While it is a relatively simple matter to prosecute extremists who have committed arson or detonated explosive devices, under existing federal statutes it is difficult, if not impossible, to address a campaign of low-level criminal activity like that of SHAC," he said, calling their efforts against Huntingdon an "organized, multi-state campaign of intimidation, vandalism, threats and coercion."
One particular issue federal officials highlight is the need for a so-called predicate offense to get a warrant for electronic surveillance. Unless there is evidence that a federal crime has been committed, the FBI cannot get a warrant to tap the phones, e-mails and Web sites of animal rights groups -- often the only way to build a case against them.
But some civil liberties advocates have slated the bill's provisions as overbroad and unnecessary, charging that legitimate protests that damage a company's bottom line would be criminalized by the new law.
"Disrupting business and hurting profits isn't terrorism," said Will Potter, a freelance reporter and animal rights sympathizer who has testified before Congress about the civil liberties impact of the proposed law. "It's effective activism. Businesses exist to make money, and if activists want to change a business practice, they must make that practice unprofitable."
He added that was the principle that guided the lunch-counter campaigns of civil rights activists and the divestment campaigns of anti-apartheid groups. "The tactics of Martin Luther King and Gandhi are now terrorism," he concluded.
The jail terms handed down this week were less than the minimum recommended in federal sentencing guidelines by between 25 and 30 percent, the federal prosecutor in the case told UPI.
Nonetheless, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Solano said he was content. "We asked for sentences within the guidelines," he said, "but these are appropriate sentences that send a message."
The judge, Anne Thompson, sentenced the group's former president, Kevin Kjonaas of Minneapolis, to six years. Lauren Gazzola, of Connecticut who had been the group's campaign coordinator, was sentenced to four years and four months, while its Web coordinator, Jacob Conroy, 30, of Oakland, Calif., received four years.
Wednesday, Joshua Harper, the group's West Coast coordinator was sentenced to three years. All the defendants will serve another three years of supervised release -- comparable to parole, which does not exist in the federal system -- once they have completed their sentences.
In her remarks, Thompson acknowledged receiving thousands of letters supporting the defendants, according to the New York Times.
The defendants, who claimed their actions were protected by the first amendment, have pledged to appeal.
Pharmaceutical Industry Delighted With Jailing Animal Rights Activists
The activists, which were associated with an organization known as Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or SHAC, were sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey based on six counts, including conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act by attempting to put Huntingdon Life Sciences out of business, terrorizing the company's employees and harassing its clients, which include big pharma companies.
Kevin Kjonaas, the president of SHAC, received 72 months in prison, the stiffest sentence. Two other members received 52 months and 48 months in prison. Another SHAC member was sentenced Wednesday to 48 months in prison, and two other members are scheduled to be sentenced next week.
SHAC also received five years probation and was ordered to pay a restitution of $1,000,001 that will be the responsibility of the individual members.
The convicted members have said they will appeal, but they will have to start serving their jail terms within 30 days.
"We're encouraged that activists are being sent a strong message that they're going to be held accountable for their actions," Jacquie Calnan, president of Americans for Medical Progress, a group in Alexandria, Va., that is supported by the pharmaceutical industry, told United Press International.
"We hope this is going to deter others from choosing illegal routes to voice their protest," Calnan added.
Still, though, the industry is wary that the movement will continue and other activists will pop up.
"We're concerned about other groups and certainly there are more activists that are out there," Calnan said. This includes groups such as Win Animal Rights and Hugs for Puppies as well as individual activists, she said.
"This (ruling) does not resolve the issue for us," she said.
Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, a group supported by industry, agreed, saying that there is a need for harsher and stricter laws. This is why her organization and others are pushing for the passage of an updated version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.
"The ruling sends a message certainly that this kind of illegal behavior isn't going to be tolerated," Trull told UPI.
"I think it will have a chilling effect, at least temporarily, which is why this legislation is really important," she said.
Trull said the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act's chances of passing look good, but it might run into a time crunch with only two weeks left in this legislative session.
"We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to get this done, but it's going to be a real push," she said.
A new version of the bill was introduced last week by Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the House is working on a similar version.
"There's a lot of interest in Congress to get this bill done," Trull said.
In regard to the research community, Trull said the animal-rights activists are a threat because they have not spared any segment, from companies down to academic researchers.
"Nobody has been insulated from the activities of these groups," she said. "They have targeted companies through secondary and tertiary targeting and causing economic damages and they have targeted researchers, as evidenced by what happened at UCLA," she said, referring to UCLA professor Dario Ringach, who gave into activists demands this summer and agreed to stop conducting experiments involving animals.
Animal-rights activists, however, do not appear likely to back down and may, in fact, be emboldened.
"This (ruling) won't have a deterrent affect," Camille Hankins, who represents Win Animal Rights, told UPI. "If anything, this is probably going to breed life into the movement," Hankins added.
"The activists I saw and spoke to yesterday are really angry about the decision," she said, noting that many of them believe the actions of the SHAC members were protected free speech.
Hankins, who was in the courtroom during the sentencing, noted that it was jam-packed with activists from all over the country.
"You only had to look around the courtroom to know that this campaign is very much alive," she said.
Source: United Press International
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