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If you haven't spent all your holiday cash yet, consider sending some to Greenpeace, which is currently fighting for its life against the Iron Fist of Ashcroft.

The details: In April 2002, Greenpeace members boarded a ship (which was carrying illegally harvested mahogany from the Brazilian rainforest) coming into port in Miami. Before they could unfurl their banner reading "President Bush: Stop illegal logging," the members were arrested. The spent three days in jail, and figured that was the end of it. And it was, for the individual activists.

Fifteen months later, Ashcroft dug up an 1872 law banning "sailor-mongering" to prosecute the entire Greenpeace organization. The law has not been used since 1890.

From the Washington Post article:

Greenpeace, which argued Friday for a dismissal of the charges in a Miami federal courtroom, accuses prosecutors of attempting to suppress the age-old American practice of civil protest. Although it is common to levy criminal charges against individual protesters, Greenpeace says a criminal indictment of an advocacy group is unprecedented and politically motivated.

[snip]

Greenpeace attorney Jane Moscowitz argued Friday that the group was singled out for selective prosecution, saying that for decades federal prosecutors have not charged an array of activist groups -- from the NAACP to militant antiabortion organizations -- with criminal wrongdoing because of the actions of their members.

"In this country, there has never been a prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan," she said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Elliott countered by citing examples of criminal campaign finance law violations against labor unions and prosecution of terrorist groups. Elliott also started to discuss a federal prosecution of the Communist Party of the United States for refusing to turn over membership lists, but U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan cut him off.

"That might not be the best example given that the prosecution itself was unconstitutional," Jordan said.

Indeed, Jordan seemed almost as curious as the Greenpeace attorneys about the use of a law that had not been employed for more than a century. The judge, who was appointed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, questioned whether the long dormancy of the law could be the "best evidence of all" to support the selective prosecution claim.

What could happen if Greenpeace loses? According to their site:

The potential fine, of $10,000 USD per charge, is serious money for an organization that doesn't accept corporate or government donations. The organization could also receive up to five years of probation.

Ongoing government monitoring, if sentenced to probation, would make Greenpeace's role as a watchdog and advocacy group difficult, to say the least. But it is the legal precedent that could be most damaging for Greenpeace and other advocacy groups in the US.

A crucial part of what Greenpeace does is the exercise of its right to free speech in calling attention to environmental problems. A tactic this protest exemplifies: In an effort to help save the Amazon, activists engaged in a very public direct action.

Obviously, a conviction in this case could have a chilling effect on the ability of Greenpeace, and other groups, to effectively criticize powerful corporate and government targets on social and environmental issues.

So send a donation to help with their legal costs. If your funds are low, you can always send a letter. The more people who act on this issue, the better.

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