New York, 16 April 2004 - In a move widely regarded as an anti-dissent crackdown on behalf of the imminent Republican National Convention, the NYC District Attorney has defined protest speech as “criminal”, urging jail time for activists who have a history of dissent. The DA’s office made the statement in a letter outlining sentencing recommendations for 16 activists recently convicted for non-violent civil disobedience. The activists are to be sentenced on Monday.
The letter demands the judge jail eight defendants out of the sixteen, citing prior records of protest activity. However, none of cases cited involved criminal charges, and the vast majority were dismissed. The cases on which the DA based the demand for jail time included demonstrations for the rights of people of color; immigrants, people with AIDS; lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people; and nations under pressure from the World Bank and the IMF.
“The DA is illegally seeking to prejudice the judge by citing unsubstantiated prior charges against the defendants - charges that were long ago dismissed with the DA’s consent.” said Stephen Edwards, an attorney for the demonstrators. “It’s unethical, and it’s not the way our courts work. It begs the question: why is the DA using unproven claims to seek disproportionate punishment in this case?”
“By requesting incarceration for non-violent protestors, the DA’s Office seeks to stifle dissent and create a climate of fear around the Republican National Convention. In 20 years of representing thousands of protestors espousing dozens of causes, I have never before seen a prosecutor ask for jail time for non-violent protest”, said Ron Kuby, a prominent New York attorney.
The DA’s letter also urges the court to impose ten days of community service on all defendants - far above the standard one or two days.
“In New York City, the charge of Obstruction of Governmental Administration was resurrected to prosecute protesters as criminals under Mayor Giuliani,” said Ora Wise, a defendant who will be sentenced on Monday. “It was part of an overt campaign to silence protest. Other elements of that campaign have gradually been repealed through court actions against the City. But the application of criminal charges to protest speech remains, and bears bitter fruit. Now that protesters are routinely charged with misdemeanors, the DA invites the judge to look on all past protest as criminal too.”
The protesters, whose civil disobedience protested the death of peace activist Rachel Corrie at the hands of the Israeli military, in addition to the newly-launched war on Iraq, have received letters of support from elected officials and human rights activists worldwide. In a letter to the judge, Corrie’s mother wrote:
“Barely a week after Rachel’s death, I learned of the action these 16 individuals took to protest the political and social conditions that led to her death. These people, like Rachel, applied the methods of non-violent and peaceful protest to convey the convictions that they felt powerfully in their hearts. Like Rachel, they shared the belief that moving the world towards a less violent place begins in simple acts of non-violent resistance.”
When: Monday, April 19, 9:30am
Where: 100 Centre Street, Room 450
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Contact: Jack Cohen (917) 596-2476.