Greenpeace Charges Ashcroft, Miami Authorities Endanger Free Speech Rights

Freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest and halting the import of illegal mahogany from the Brazilian Amazon were the focus of a press conference held by Greenpeace today.

Freedom of speech, the right to peaceful protest and

halting the import of illegal mahogany from the Brazilian Amazon were the focus of a press conference held by Greenpeace today. The global environmental group is fighting unprecedented federal criminal charges in Miami for engaging in peaceful protest, even as it continues its work to stop the destruction of endangered forests around the world. The press conference also drew attention to the extreme measures that federal and local authorities have taken recently to deny a Greenpeace ship access to the Port of Miami and to hinder public access to that ship.

"This case is an ominous extension of John Ashcroft's Patriot Act," said John

Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace. "If this prosecution succeeds, non-violent civil protest -- an essential American tradition from colonial times to the civil rights movement -- may become yet another casualty of Mr. Ashcroft's attack on civil liberties."

In April 2002, two Greenpeace activists climbed onto a commercial ship off the coast of Florida. The activists were carrying a banner that read, "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging" to draw attention to the fact that the ship was bringing illegal mahogany from the Amazon rainforest into the United States. Criminal enterprises continue to ravage the Amazon, using bribery, extortion, slavery, and murder.

"While the U.S. watches its borders for drugs and counterfeit Gucci bags, no law yet exists to stop importation of most wood illegally cut in other countries," said Scott Paul, Greenpeace's Forest Campaign Coordinator. "We took action when our government failed to."

The individuals involved in the protest settled charges against them last year. However, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against Greenpeace as a corporate entity in July 2003, citing an obscure 19th century law prohibiting unauthorized ship boarding. Greenpeace contends that this prosecution -- the first indictment of its kind in U.S. history -- is politically motivated because the environmental group has effectively opposed Bush Administration policies.

The Port of Miami recently refused dock space to the Greenpeace ship M.Y.

Esperanza, which arrived in Miami on October 27, on its way to Europe after

spending three months in North America. During the Esperanza's stay in Miami, Greenpeace had planned to invite the public on board to learn more about Greenpeace's work. However, the ship was forced to anchor three miles out at sea, and authorities have hampered efforts to allow media and supporters on board to visit the ship.

Alan Farago, Sierra Club Everglades Chair and a local leader in the environmental movement in Miami, spoke in support of Greenpeace: "The people of Miami are familiar with despotic government, and it is a shame to be here on the occasion of our own government using excuses to inhibit civic participation and the legitimate right to free expression."

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