The government’s campaign against animal rights activists sunk to a new level March 2 when it won convictions against six activists simply for advocating protest activities. In the first trial ever under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (formerly known as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act), animal rights activists Kevin Kjonaas, Lauren Gazzola, Jacob Conroy, Joshua Harper, Andrew Stepanian, Darius Fullmer were found guilty March 2 of multiple felonies related to their campaign to close animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences.
While the charges, including violation of the Act as well as conspiracy to harass using a telecommunications device, may sound alarming, the defendants were never accused of having personally engaged in any terrorist or threatening acts. Instead, the government alleged that above-ground organizers of the protest campaign were responsible for any and all acts that anyone engaged in while furthering the goals of the organizers. That the government won convictions based on such flimsy charges is designed to send a shiver down the spine of activists everywhere.
The six activists with Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), charged along with John McGee who was dropped from the case, are known as the SHAC 7. Some of them now face up to ten years in prison. All of the defendants were involved in some capacity in the campaign to close Huntingdon Life Sciences, a contract research lab with one facility in New Jersey and two in England. Acts of cruelty to animals at the lab were exposed in five different undercover investigations which obtained video footage showing countless violations of the animal welfare act. Since 1999, activists have campaigned globally against the lab, bringing it to the brink of closure.
The trial of the case was biased against the defendants. The judge ruled that the defendants could not introduce their own computer expert (but the government could introduce their computer expert) and that there could be no anti-vivisection expert (but the government witnesses could carry on about the benefits of animal research). The judge also limited the defendants’ preemptory challenges during jury selection to seven and failed to dismiss jurors who worked for companies that had been the subject of the campaign to close HLS.
The government called witnesses who were unable to identify any of the defendants as engaging in any criminal acts against them. For example, the judge allowed HLS Director Brian Cass to testify about the campaign in England, an attack on him in England, and the benefits of animal research, despite the fact that he had nothing to say about the defendants in the case.
The SHAC7 (or 6) desperately need our support – both financially to cover the costs of the appeal process and morally to help them through these difficult and trying times. For more information on how you can help support the SHAC7 and defend the ability of activists to organize protest activities, check out www.SHAC7.com.