Anti-GM protests suppressed around the world (17/5/2005)

1.Lancaster bummer
2.Protesters file lawsuit over 2003 incidents
3.Free Thailand's papaya activists


It's not exactly hard to spot the pattern.

Students at a British university peacefully protest against a "corporate venturing" conference on campus involving, amongst others, Lord Sainsbury, GM firm Dupont, arms manufacturer BAE Systems and Shell, the oil giant responsible for environmental devastation in the Niger delta. 5 months later the protesters suddenly find themselves facing charges of aggravated trespass and a possible jail sentence. (item 1)

In Denmark Greenpeace protesters go into a company building to hang up a banner protesting against genetically-modified crops and eight months later find the organisation is to be prosecuted under anti-terrorism laws.

In May 2003, protesters in St Louis who had come to demonstrate at the Monsanto-backed World Agricultural Forum (WAF) taking place in the city, found themselves arrested and held for hours before they could even make their protest. They're now bringing a legal case against the mayor and police chief for conspiring to stifle their protests. (item 2)

In Thailand GM protesters find themselves facing 5 years of prison for exposing an environmental crime involving illegal contamination of innocent
farmers' papaya crops. (item 3)

Among these attempts to silence protest what's happened at Lancaster University (item 1) is possibly the most depressing. The criminal charges could only have been brought against the protesters at the request of their university. As one of the students has commented, "[the University] has a duty to allow and even facilitate the expression of views opposing unethical companies and the university's involvement with them. It is wrong, and in the long term counterproductive, for an academic institution to ignore such concerns, let alone to prosecute those who raise them."

For more information on the Lancaster 6 and how to protest:
To protest what's happening in Thailand:

1.Lancaster bummer
Private Eye 1132 (13 May-26 May 2005)

It seems the University of Wales isn't alone in heavy handedly employing Inspector Knacker to stifle free speech (see Eye 1130) as our supposed refuges of academic freedom are forced to cosy up to big business for funding.

Six students from Lancaster University are facing charges of aggravated trespass for taking part in in a demonstration on their own campus. They were protesting against a "corporate venturing" conference organised by the university, which had speakers from BAE Systems and Shell and other companies which the students felt had records of environmental or human rights abuses.

After demonstrating outside the George Fox building, they took their protest inside the lecture theatre until they were removed by university security staff. They then continued their peaceful protest outside.

The students maintain that when police were called, officers told them at the time that they were not committing any offence. But last month - five months after the protest and to the students' utter disbelief - they received summonses to appear in court in September for alleged aggravated trespass, charges that can only have been instigated by the university.

Local Green Councillors have written to Lancaster's vice-chancellor, Prof Paul Wellings, urging him to drop the case and asking him what he thinks education is for if not to encourage people to express opinions.

So far there is no sign Lancaster is relenting. The students' only hope is that magistrates at least recognise what a waste of taxpayers' money it is to try to stifle debate and protest through the police and courts.

2.Protesters file lawsuit over 2003 incidents
By Peter Shinkle
St Louis Post-Dispatch

Activists arrested in 2003 have filed a federal lawsuit claiming St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Joe Mokwa conspired to stifle their plans to protest at that year's World Agriculture Forum.

The 24 plaintiffs claim that their arrests on May 16, 2003, on charges that included occupying a condemned building, were intended to prevent them from exercising their rights.

Nine of the activists were arrested while riding bicycles through Tower Grove Park, allegedly for violating a bicycle ordinance that had been repealed two years earlier, the suit says.

One of the plaintiffs was walking along a street when he was picked up by police, who then drove around the city holding him in the back of a patrol car for as long as five hours, and all charges were later dropped, according to the suit. Attorneys working with the American Civil Liberties Union filed the case Friday in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

The suit seeks $2,000 in damages for each plaintiff, attorney's fees and an order by a federal judge blocking the police from using "pre-textual" arrests in the future.

Mayor Slay and Chief Mokwa declined to comment, they said through spokesmen who said they had not yet seen the suit.

In May 2003, police officials became concerned that protests of the agricultural conference would take a violent turn, as had happened at a similar event in Seattle in 1999.

Some of the activists had come to St. Louis from across the country to protest at the conference, which had been criticized for supporting genetically modified foods.

Denise Lieberman, the ACLU legal director for eastern Missouri, said her organization's clients had no plans to engage in any violent conduct. Police could have obtained search warrants if they had evidence of criminal conduct, but they obtained no such warrants, she said.

Instead, the police carried out a series of "pre-textual" arrests, including one in which a housing inspector arrived with numerous police officers at a house at 3309 Illinois Avenue, where protesters were gathering, the suit says.

Fourteen of the plaintiffs were among those arrested at the house and charged with occupying a condemned building. They spent 20 hours in jail, the suit says. Police noted that some ofthe defendants were "anarchists," even though they did not offer that description of themselves, the suit says.

Lieberman said the police seized address books, diaries, photo albums and other items that had nothing to do with the alleged housing code violation.

She said the arrests caused many of the people at the house to miss the planned protest, and the arrests had a "chilling effect" that caused others to stay away from the protest.

The allegation:

The mayor and police chief conspired to stifle their protests by having them arrested.

What they want:

$2,000 each plus attorney's fees, and an order blocking police from using "pre-textual" arrests.

Reporter Peter Shinkle:
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 314-621-5804

3.Free Thailand's papaya activists
29 Apr 2005

Exposing an environmental crime and calling for the destruction of GE cropshas become a criminal offence. If the charges against these two activists are held up in a court of law, its open season on all kinds of activists (If it wasn't already!)

Bangkok, Thailand — Why are two activists facing 5 years of prison for exposing an environmental crime

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