Animal rights activists on trial
Thursday, June 02, 2005
By LINDA STEIN
TRENTON - Potential jurors coming to the federal courthouse yesterday were met with chants and signs depicting injured puppies and chimpanzees as groups protested a trial for six animal rights activists.
The activists, who are members or associates of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), face charges based on an alleged campaign of harassment and intimidation against employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British pharmaceutical company with a branch in East Millstone that does animal research.
The indictment alleges the SHAC Web site encouraged others to violate the law in order to run Huntingdon out of business. It showed a list of the top 20 terror tactics such as vandalism, theft, assault and conducting telephone and e-mail campaigns to shut down company computers.
But SHAC spokeswoman Andrea Lindsay, 26, who came from San Francisco to be part of the protest, said the members being prosecuted have never committed any illegal acts but were merely exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.
Members of the group chanted, "Free speech is under attack. What do we do? Fight back."
In addition to SHAC, protesters included members of Win Animal Rights, New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance and the labor union Industrial Workers of the World.
"I see it as a free speech case," said Tom Howard, 27, of Edison, an IWW delegate. He said the things SHAC defendants did "fell within the bounds of criticizing a company for its policies. If (the government) gets away with this it can affect union strikers. They can say strikers are terrorists."
Jake Samuelson, 19, of Cape May said he was protesting the trial because of a belief in free speech.
The defendants are on trial for reporting acts of animal cruelty, he said.
Grace Hagen, 49, of Manhattan, agreed that free speech is the issue.
"We are a peaceful group," she said. The government is trying to "chill freedom of speech using security and terrorism," Hagen said. "The only thing these people did was run a Web site."
"That is a specious minimization of what the Web site asked its supporters to do," said Mike Drewniak, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. He cited the government's court filings.
Prosecutors have said that homes and property of Huntingdon employees and of employees of companies that do business with Huntingdon were vandalized after being listed on the SHAC Web site.
The group is facing various charges under the federal animal enterprises protection act.
Charged are Kevin Kjonass, Lauren Gazzola and Jason Conroy of California; Joshua Harper of Seattle, Darius Fullmer of New Jersey and Andrew Stepanian of New York.
Although John McGee of Edison also was charged in the indictment, his lawyer, Josh Markowitz, said he is no longer part of the case and that the charges against McGee are expected to be dismissed.
Jury selection will continue today. Opening arguments are expected before U.S. District Court Judge Mary Cooper next week.