Civil Rights Outreach Committee
For Immediate Release: May 22, 2007
Lauren Regan, Civil Liberties Defense Center, Eugene, OR, 541-687-9180
Alejandro Queral, NW Constitutional Rights Center, Portland, OR, 503-295-6400, 202-491-6204
Feds To Continue Politically Motivated Prosecution of Eco-Saboteurs
Judge's ruling opens door for activists to be sentenced for decades
Eugene, OR - Monday's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken gave the government the green light to attempt to brand 10 environmental and animal rights activists as terrorists, though they caused no injury to human life. Pursuant to Judge Aiken's opinion that a "federal crime of terrorism does not require a substantial risk of injury," the government will likely seek harsher prison sentences under the terrorism enhancement provision of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Judge Aiken has retained discretion to determine whether the terrorism enhancement provision should apply to each individual defendant involved in arsons intended to stem environmental destruction and animal abuse. The ruling does require however, that the prosecutors prove that defendants' actions were directed at the government itself and not just at private or corporate entities.
"This decision broadens the definition of terrorism by not requiring a 'substantial risk of injury,'" said Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. "The question now is how the enhancement provision will apply to each defendant. The government must prove that each individual intended to influence or affect the conduct of government, and not that of private companies. In this case, the court has set forth a very heavy burden for the government to meet."
The ruling opens a "Pandora's Box" that could result in additional politically motivated prosecutions by the Justice Department seeking to brand activists as "terrorists." The court's decision may also set a dangerous precedent that could be exploited by the federal government to seek greater prison time for political activists engaged in acts of civil disobedience.
"The government now has a larger hammer to wield against political activists engaged in traditional forms of civil disobedience," said Alejandro Queral, executive director of the NW Constitutional Rights Center. "There is a very real possibility that prosecutors will use the threat of a terrorism enhancement and increased prison time to send a chilling message to political activists that may have engaged in unlawful but symbolic actions, even if they pose no substantial risk of injury."
The court will hold sentencing hearings for each defendant starting today through June 5 and will determine whether the terrorism enhancement applies to each defendant individually.
Copies of a press packet with current related articles, background information, historical examples of sabotage in the U.S. are available.