[Ppnews] First SHAC 7 Defendant Starts Prison Sentence

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 5 08:55:46 EDT 2006

Andrew Stepanian became the first SHAC 7 defendant to start his prison
sentence today. Andy turned himself in at MDC Brooklyn, where he will
remain for up to 120 days awaiting a long term prison assignment from the
Bureau of Prisons. Prior to turning himself in today, Andy did an
interview with the radio show "Democracy Now."


Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006
First Member of SHAC 7 Heads to Jail for Three Year Sentence

We look at one of the country's most controversial cases involving 
the prosecution of activists for animal rights. Earlier this year, 
six people were convicted for their role in a campaign to stop animal 
testing by the British scientific firm Huntingdon Life Sciences.

The activists are with a group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, 
or SHAC. Unlike other cases, the activists were never accused of 
causing physical damage. Instead, they were convicted of targeting 
Huntingdon workers, shareholders, and associates by posting personal 
information about employees and their families on the internet. The 
case has drawn scrutiny from civil rights advocates who say groups 
like SHAC have been singled out because they campaign against major 
corporations. The FBI has called animal rights groups the nation's 
number one domestic terror threat.

Our next guest is a SHAC 7 member whose jail term begins today. 
Andrew Stepanian has been sentenced to three years in prison - the 
maximum allowed under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. He is the 
first SHAC 7 member to go to jail following the convictions. We also 
speak with Andrew Erba, one of the lead attorneys in the case.

    * Andrew Stepanian, member of SHAC 7. He joins us on the line 
from Huntington, New York. More information at 
    * Andrew Erba, one of the lead attorneys in the SHAC 7 case. 
Speaking to us from Philadelphia.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest is a SHAC 7 member whose jail term begins 
today. Andrew Stepanian has been sentenced to three years in prison, 
the maximum allowed under the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. He is 
the first SHAC 7 member to go to jail following the convictions. He 
is speaking with us from Huntington, New York. We welcome you to 
Democracy Now!, Andrew Stepanian.

But before we begin, a warning for our television audience. We'll be 
playing some graphic footage taken of lab tests inside the Huntingdon 
facility in 1997. The video led the British government to temporarily 
take away Huntingdon's license.

We're also joined by Andrew Erba. He has been one of the lead 
attorneys in the SHAC 7 case, and he joins us from a studio in 
Philadelphia. Andrew Stepanian, you are turning yourself in today. 
Explain what you were convicted of.

ANDREW STEPANIAN: I was convicted of one count of a numerous count 
indictment that came down on both myself and co-defendants, including 
the corporation Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, to which I was 
not a member. I didn't facilitate a website. But with the website, 
with the corporation and myself, all of these charges stem from 
speech-related activity, whether or not that was speech on internet 
or if it was speech engaged at a peaceful demonstration, most done 
with the oversight of police. And that's where my charge came in.

I sat through a court case of about 40 days, and at the end of it, I 
was convicted, mainly on evidence stemming from my attendance at a 
protest against an auditing firm by the name of Deloitte & Touche. 
The prosecutors claim that because Deloitte & Touche severed its 
relationship with Huntingdon Life Sciences, Huntingdon Life Sciences 
may have incurred more than $10,000 in damages. And as long as a 
threshold of $10,000 is met, I could participate in legal activities 
leading up to that point, but the second I cause $10,000 of 
intellectual damage, then I could be charged under this conspiracy to 
violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act. I would be charged with 
a substantive charge if I actually destroyed some property, for 
example, that was worth $10,000, but in this case, it was a purely 
intellectual matter.

And that demonstration, in particular, the Nassau County Police in 
Long Island appeared on the scene. They didn't find any reason to 
cite any of the people in attendance of the demonstration, including 
myself, and I was more than open about my attendance at that 
demonstration. I had no idea that at the end of a 40-or-so-day trial, 
that that is why I'm going to end up serving 36 months in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Your sentence was upped, because you had a party a few 
weeks ago, a going-away party?

ANDREW STEPANIAN: Yeah. My mother thought it was a good idea to have 
a going-away party for myself. I used to be a promoter in the punk 
rock scene a few years ago on Long Island. I also was a talent buyer 
at a club called The Downtown in Long Island, New York. And so, a 
bunch of bands got together and played a show in my backyard. And the 
best that I can make of it is that people that were like-minded got 
together, and there must have been some folks who decided to go out 
and do a demonstration that night.

Again, the demonstration wasn't illegal. No property was damaged, but 
the fact that a demonstration happened on the same day as my 
going-away party, it warranted some response from the prosecution 
during sentencing, saying that I'm a lightning rod for this type of 
activity, and if I'm not a leader, that I should start acting like a 
leader and try to stop activism like this on Long Island. It's my 
contention that at this point I'm being prosecuted as a leader, and 
I'm not a leader, and I'm not about to start becoming a leader in 
this movement and dissuade people from following their hearts and 
getting involved with activism that I think is righteous.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Stepanian, let me read you from the Southern 
Poverty Law Center intelligence report. It's by Heidi Beirich and Bob 
Moser. Just the beginning of it.


AMY GOODMAN: It says, "A Chicago insurance executive might seem like 
one of the last people who'd be opening a letter with this succinctly 
chilling message: 'You have been targeted for terrorist attack.' But 
that's what happened last year, when a top official at Marsh USA Inc. 
was informed that he and his company's employees had landed in the 
crosshairs of an extremist animal rights group. The reason? Marsh 
provides insurance for one of the world's biggest animal testing 
labs. 'If you bail out now,' the letter advised, 'you, your business, 
and your family will be spared great hassle and humility.'

"That letter -- and the harassment campaign that followed, after 
Marsh declined to 'bail out' -- was another shot fired by Stop 
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). This British-born group, now firmly 
established in the United States, is waging war on anyone involved 
with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests drugs on approximately 
70,000 rats, dogs, monkeys and other animals each year. In the 
process, SHAC is rewriting the rules by which even the most radical 
eco-activists have traditionally operated.

"In the past, even the edgiest American eco-warriors drew the line at 
targeting humans. They trumpeted underground activists' attacks on 
businesses and laboratories perceived as abusing animals or the 
environment -- the FBI reports more than 600 incidents, causing $43 
million in damage, since 1996. But spokespeople for the two most 
active groups in the U.S., the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the 
Earth Liberation Front (ELF), have always been quick to claim that 
their underground cells have never injured or killed any people.

"Since 1999, however, members of both groups have been involved with 
SHAC's campaign to harass employees of Huntingdon -- and even 
distantly related business associates like Marsh - with frankly 
terroristic tactics similar to those of anti-abortion extremists. 
Employees have had their homes vandalized with spray-painted 'Puppy 
killer' and 'We'll be back' notices. They have faced a mounting 
number of death threats, fire bombings and violent assaults. They've 
had their names, addresses and personal information posted on Web 
sites and posters, declaring them 'wanted for collaboration with 
animal torture.'

"When cowed companies began responding to the harassment by pulling 
away from Huntington, many radical environmentalists cheered - even 
when SHAC's actions clearly went over the 'nonviolent' line." Your response?

ANDREW STEPANIAN: My response to that is that historically, the 
animal rights movement still to date has never hurt anyone in the 
United States. And so, to somehow say that we're at par with 
anti-abortion extremists is a bit of a stretch. Anti-abortion 
extremists obviously have hurt people. I can't be the spokesperson 
for SHAC, SHAC USA Incorporated, and especially not the activities of 
SHAC in the UK. I was a volunteer with a group called the Animal 
Defense League of Long Island, and my involvement with SHAC began the 
second I was indicted with everybody else in accordance with this conspiracy.

All I could really say in regards to what you just repeated to me is 
that some of that seems grossly exaggerated. And that's just from my 
experience with sitting in on this trial and the court record. I 
don't recall at any point the prosecutors ever alleging or saying 
that a letter of that nature ever arose. And I was pretty attentive, 
taking notes the entire time during the trial. Also, there was never 
an incident of human-to-human violence that happened in the United 
States. The historical record will show that things like spray 
paintings did happen, and demonstrations happened out in front of 
people's houses.

And, in fact, I think the most violent rhetoric that was read back 
into an email was something in regards to "How would you feel if 
someone treated your child the way these poor animals are being 
treated?" Later on, I read a New York Times article that showed that 
an FBI agent was misquoting that same exact quote that was given 
during testimony, that was alleged to have been in an email received 
from an anonymous individual, not SHAC or SHAC USA or SHAC UK or any 
of the parties sitting there in the court case, but rather an 
anonymous individual, saying, "How would you like it if your child 
was treated that way?" And that's open to a great deal of 
speculation. You can go and say, alright, maybe someone's trying to 
make someone feel empathy for an animal the way people feel empathy 
for a child. And there was a lot of room for argument, obviously, in 
the eyes of the prosecution.

But when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, no one was hurt. 
SHAC USA, on their website, never advocated for anyone to be hurt. 
SHAC USA, at the bottom of every page, when you load up the html, 
always had a disclaimer that said that we do not advocate any form of 
violent activity, and in fact, we urge people that when they write 
letters or they send emails, that they're polite, they're to the 
point, they're not threatening in nature. And, obviously, all that 
happened on the SHAC USA website was a legal form of reporting. It 
wasn't, "You go and go do this or go annoy these people or go harass 
these people," but rather, "These are the people that are supporting 
this laboratory. This is how they put bread on the table. And this is 
how this company exists." The website existed for a purpose, to say, 
"This company is an organism. And there are different things that 
feed this organism and keep it alive."

Whether or not people took that information and did less than savory 
things or things that even made myself feel uncomfortable, well, that 
wasn't necessarily the business of SHAC USA to be responsible for. 
The only business that they had was reporting on the facts. And all 
that, no matter how uncomfortable you might say it is, is protected 
underneath the First Amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Stepanian, speaking to us before he turns himself 
in today. And, Andrew, let me say that I was reading to you from a 
fall 2002 article, which doesn't specifically describe the case that 
you were involved with. Andrew Erba also joins us from Philadelphia, 
Andrew Stepanian's lawyer. Can you put SHAC 7, this case, in the 
context of other conspiracy cases?

ANDREW ERBA: Well, actually, it's very important piece of legal 
actions, because it moves the internet into prosecution. I mean, 
really what is being prosecuted here is, as Andy said, the posting of 
notices, the posting of news, the exchange of emails on an internet 
website. The government says that as a result of this posting of 
information, which otherwise, I think, is completely legal and First 
Amendment-protected, other individuals were incited to take actions. 
But the government has never proven any individual actually read the 
information on the website and then took an immediate action based on 
that, which is the test under Brandenburg v. Ohio.

And so, what we have is a very important extension of a 
constitutional doctrine into an area, which I think affects many 
activist groups, because, certainly, if we look on the web today, on 
the internet, many people hold websites which say things which may be 
somewhat rhetorical, may be somewhat passionate, and as a result of 
posting that, if someone should act on that, should that website, 
should that activist group be held responsible? I think not, under 
the First Amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Erba, can you compare the Animal Enterprise 
Protection Act, an industry-specific statute that provides harsher 
sentences for those protesting animal-related businesses than perhaps 
those protesting women's health clinics around the issue of abortion?

ANDREW ERBA: One of the things we have to understand is that -- and 
this is one of our arguments, will be in the Third Circuit -- that 
the government is really misconstruing the Animal Enterprise 
Protection Act. It's a very specific act, and what it really 
prohibits is someone who would go on the property of an animal 
enterprise and free an animal that's in an experiment or break a 
window or knock down a door -- I mean, do something physically in a 
trespass action.

Now, what the government has done in this case is transmute that into 
an action which says that if I organize activities, which may lead to 
someone organizing against an animal enterprise, they're held 
responsible. And this is in direct contradiction to the legislation 
under the abortion statutes or the anti-abortion statutes, to really 
talk about a specific action, a person picketing an abortion clinic, 
a person preventing a woman from entering an abortion clinic. So, in 
one sense, the government has accepted that it has to have a greater 
nexus, but with the Animal Enterprise Protection Act, they've lost 
that nexus and really are prosecuting people who merely advocate 
having a movement against the various animal enterprise. And so, 
therefore, we feel it's a gross extension of what Congress intended 
under the act.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Stepanian, if you had this all to do again, would 
you do it differently?

ANDREW STEPANIAN: I would have to say no. I mean, I have a minimal 
involvement with this, from start to finish. And my only involvement 
was with the Animal Defense League of Long Island, a group that's 
been acclaimed by local politicians. I recently got an award from 
both the U.S. military and the United States Humane Society for my 
work down in New Orleans helping right after Hurricane Katrina. And, 
you know, it's like, these are activities that I partake in with my 
affinity group and my activists in Long Island, and I'm proud to be 
working with them. What motivated us to help the people down in New 
Orleans is exactly what motivated us to get involved with, you know, 
picketing Deloitte & Touche, saying that they shouldn't support the 
murder of 180,000 animals each day.

And with closing that, you know, I think that what scares me is that 
it doesn't end here. Currently, the Senate subcommittee hearings that 
are trying to broaden these laws and have them go after other 
specific focus activist groups. And if I can quote Senator James 
Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, dated October 26 of 2005, he 
says, "It seems to me unimaginable that this country's worldwide 
symbol of the integrity of capital markets, the New York Stock 
Exchange, would capitulate to threats, or in this case even the mere 
threat of threats from a single-issue extremist group. Appeasing 
these groups only validates their effectiveness and the effectiveness 
of their tactics and inspires them to replicate this model of 
activism in some sort of other venue. What then happens when the 
activists move to the timber, the defense or some sort of other 
controversial industry?"

And I interpret that and that entire Senate subcommittee hearing as, 
they don't want effective models of activism, like the Stop 
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign, to be applied to antiwar 
activism, to be applied to women's health issues, to be applied to 
civil rights issues, to be applied to -- for example, in great model 
would be organizing against sweatshops.

And this is something that obviously is important to me, and I am 
ready to go to the Third Circuit. I'm ready to appeal. And I'm ready 
to win on this issue, because I think that at the end of the day, I'm 
not willing to have my name brought up in the middle of a battle that 
loses and thus chills free speech for all types of people that 
believe in all different kinds of issues around this country, even 
issues I don't agree with. I want people to have that freedom to go 
do what they want to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew, how old are you?

ANDREW STEPANIAN: 28 years old. I'm going to be 31 when I get out. 
Obviously, it's stressful. <http://www.shac7.com>www.shac7.com is a 
website where people can get in touch with how to write us letters or 
how to donate to legal defense, and it has not only bios on myself, 
but my other co-defendants, great individuals like Kevin Kjonaas, 
Lauren Gazzola, Darius Fulmer, Jacob Conroy and Josh Harper. They all 
could use letters, when we're all in jail. And we obviously want to 
thank our supporters that are out there.

AMY GOODMAN: And where will turn yourself in?

ANDREW STEPANIAN: I'm turning myself in on Cadman Plaza West today at 
the U.S. courthouse. I'm going to be meeting up with some U.S. 
marshals there. And I do believe that they are going to be taking me 
to the Metropolitan Detention complex in Brooklyn.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for joining us, Andrew Stepanian and 
Andrew Erba, your attorney, joining us from Philadelphia.

The Freedom Archives
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