What do these have in common? A grave threat to civil liberties: a US lawsuit against Greenpeace calling us sailormongerers for protecting the Amazon.
Throughout the 33-year history of Greenpeace the most unexpected
people have come together to protect the environment and used non-
violent direct action to highlight environmental crimes and
But this collection is perhaps one of the most extraordinary.
What they do in the coming weeks could have significant
implications not only for the future of Greenpeace in the US, but
also for civil disobedience and the right to freedom of speech for
all in America and even beyond.
Next week, on May 17th, Greenpeace USA will be under threat of
being declared a criminal organisation at the behest of the US
Attorney General, under an obscure law that has been invoked only
twice in its 130 years on the statute books - the last time was
more than 100 years ago.
Individual activists have been prosecuted in the past for
carrying out action in support of Greenpeace campaigns worldwide -
it is not unusual, and those individuals are prepared to take the
consequences of their actions.
In April 2002, six Greenpeace activists did just that. After two
of them boarded a commercial ship, the APL Jade, which was bringing
illegal mahogany into the port of Miami, Florida, they pleaded
guilty, were fined and sentenced to "time served" - the weekend
they all spent in jail. The judicial process had run its
Or so we thought. 15 months later Greenpeace USA headquarters in
Washington was served notice that the US Attorney General's office
would be prosecuting the entire organisation for the action - the
first time in history that the US Government has prosecuted an
advocacy group for a free-speech related activity.
In a matter of a few weeks, US law could be used in an
unprecedented way to declare Greenpeace USA a criminal
organisation, as a result of acting to protect Brazilian mahogany -
a species now declared at risk according to the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). It is worth
noting here that at the time of the CITES declaration, many
governments congratulated Greenpeace for the years of campaign work
to protect the species. Now one government is prosecuting us for
doing the same thing.
While Greenpeace sits in the dock in Miami, the loggers,
shippers and traders of that illegal mahogany have cashed in and
laughed at the law. Illegally logged wood is still going to the US
and other countries around the world, the criminal underworld is
still operating in the heart of the Amazon, those trying to protect
the world's greatest rainforest are still operating under threat of
death and sometimes dying, and countries like the US are still
failing to live up to their promise under CITES to protect
But this case is not just about Greenpeace and the Amazon. On
trial is also the fundamental and cherished right to freedom of
speech and civil disobedience. Many leaders and other advocacy
groups in the US have recognised the great risk to civil liberties
this prosecution presents and are supporting Greenpeace. They
include former US Vice President Al Gore, the civil rights leader
Julian Bond and the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the
If you want to know more then check out http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/trial
But, back to the original question. Who are all these
||Hilary Hosta is a young woman from California who spent a weekend in jail and was subsequently convicted with the other five Greenpeace supporters of taking action against the APL Jade - the ship bringing the illegal logged mahogany into the Port of Miami, Florida.
||Rose Young is an Italian American who has worked for Greenpeace for most of her adult life after running away from home in her teenage years. Now a grandmother of five and mother of three, she has been at the heart of some of Greenpeace's most successful campaigns worldwide.
||Jane Moscowitz is one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Miami, Florida. Environmental prosecutions are not normally on her case book, but this is not a normal case...
||Hamilton Casara is a member of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies and former President of IBAMA, the environmental enforcement agency of Brazil. He has first hand knowledge of the value of Greenpeace's environmental work in Brazil and beyond: "We are grateful to Greenpeace for helping us preserve the forests, it is very important to defend democratic principles."
||John Ashcroft is the man at the top of the US Department of Justice, who believe Greenpeace USA should be declared criminal for alerting the authorities to a crime that was about to happen on US soil. He is ultimately responsible for risking all our rights to freedom of speech through this prosecution.
||David Halperin is a lawyer and former White House aide for Bill Clinton. Today he is representing Greenpeace USA in court to ensure that the real criminals are brought to before the courts, not an environmental organisation that is upholding the rights of freedom of speech and protest while working to protect the Amazon.
||Paulo Adario has worked for Greenpeace in the heart of the Amazon for many years. He has seen the consequences of the illegal and unsustainable trade in mahogany and other wood first hand, witnessed the use of violence and slavery that is endemic in the logging industry, known environmental activists who have been murdered as they tried to protect the greatest rainforest in the world and is himself under threat of death for his work.
||"Sailormongering" was the conduct that an 1872 US law was aimed at preventing, the practice of tavern and brothel owners waylaying ships heading into port and enticing their crews ashore, stealing their money and rendering the ship unable to function. It has been used twice in 130 years. This is the law under which Greenpeace USA has been indicted.
||The Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the world. It has almost unimaginable biodiversity, is home to tens of millions of people and a vital component in the fight against global warming. And still it is being systematically stripped by money hungry, corrupt logging companies ready to use any means necessary. If we do not continue to act to protect it, it will be lost forever.
All of these folks will be in Miami in the lead up to and during
the trial, with the exception of John Ashcroft, the monkey, and the
19th century prostitute. Sadly, Ashcroft is not required to give
evidence about why the Bush Administration feels the need to outlaw
Greenpeace, nor will he be able to answer why the Bush
Administration feels the need to allow the real criminals to go
unpunished and the Amazon to continue to be plundered.
Tell Bush to prosecute illegal loggers, not peaceful
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