Peaceful protest against war - a crime?

Feature story - 28 April, 2005
Do people who peacefully protested against the illegal war in Iraq deserve to be branded criminals and thrown in jail? Prosecutors in Spain think so and want to lock up five Greenpeace activists. For four years.

Inflatables protesting in front of Rota naval Base where there is a heavy presence of military vessels.

The right to peaceful freedom of expression is a cornerstoneof democracy. But in Spain, where public opinion was overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq war, it seems standing up for apeaceful world can get you thrown in jail.

Daniel Rizzotti, LawrenceMartin Turk, Carlos Bravo, María Teresa Ambros and Phillip Walter Lloyd were all facing jail sentences of up to four years.

Their crime: they stood up against the former Spanish government's supportfor the Iraq war. Greenpeace activists in other countries such as theUK, Netherlands, Chile and France were also arrested during anti-warprotests but none received such severe charges and violent treatmentas those in Spain.

On 14 March 2003 our ship the Rainbow Warrior was protesting against the war ata Spanish port used to send war supplies to Iraq.  During the actionLawrence and María were arrested. Military police also forcefully boarded theRainbow Warrior and arrested the ship's captain Daniel, along with Carlos and Phillip. After 12 hours in custody, theywere all eventually released with charges of resisting arrest anddisobedience, and physical damage to property.

Sentences handed down

Update May 16, 2005:Thejudge cleared 3 activists of all charges, but sentenced Captain DanielRizotti to 6 months in prison for failure to follow orders and handeddown 10 days in prison for Phil Walter Lloyd for publicdisturbance. Due to the type of sentence the activists currently willnot have to spend time in jail. We are considering appealing theCaptain's charges."These sentences are far more equal to the acts they seek to punish,"said Greenpeace Spain Executive Director Juan Lopez de Uralde,"this  closes a dark chapter marked by the intention of silencingGreenpeace and its campaigns... we will continue working for theenvironment and peace."  Thanks to all of you who took action tofree the activists!

Our actions are always peaceful and non-violent. The activists face possible sentences of four years' imprisonment forDaniel,  three years' prison for Carlos and Phillip, and nine months' prison for Lawrence and Maria. In total, almost 12years behind bars.  Additionally, the arrests were violent and severalactivists were injured, and unnecessary damage was inflicted to the Rainbow Warrior. 

At the time, our onboard web editorTracy described the arrests:

"There was a loud noise on the window of thestarboard side bridge door as the police took a sledge hammer to it,then another bang on the window of the door right behind me. Then theglass of the starboard side shattered and after a couple more knocksthe police created a large hole in the window...

One of the crew waselbowed in the nose and put in a headlock, another punched in thestomach and put in a headlock. The police chief was by then right in myface shouting at Daniel behind me, the camera was shaking in my hand...

There was glass all over the floorand Daniel was outside, the police binding his hands with rope. Thepolice came back in the bridge and grabbed Phil the Bosun and Carlosthe Spanish campaigner, pulled them out onto the deck, arrested themand tied their hands as well.

It was a brutal scene and one I will not quickly forget.   It is because ofthe thousands of innocent people who will be killed and injured that wetried to stop the US military cargo ship Cape Horn from taking suppliesfor war to the Gulf.

It is because we dream of peaceful solutions that we ride the rainbow."

The extent of the charges requested by the prosecution are yetanother impact of the Iraq war on otherwise civil societies: reduced civil liberties,  and restrictions on the rights toexpression and protest.  A war which was theoretically dedicatedto fostering democracy has undermined it.