Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Greenpeace on trial

Greenpeace went on trial in the US yesterday, they're being prosecuted under the so called sailor mongering law which was last used in 1890 to prevent prostitutes from boarding ships. This for displaying a banner on a freighter carrying illegally harvested Amazon mahogany. It's the first U.S. criminal prosecution for civil disobedience against an advocacy group rather than against its individual members.

Sailor mongering was rife in the 19th century when brothels sent prostitutes laden with booze to lure sailors off their ships as they made their way to harbor. The sailors would then be held in bondage and sold to pay off their lodging and food. The sailor mongering law was passed in 1872, making it a crime to board a ship without authorization. It has only been used twice, the last time in 1890

The action took place 15 months ago and according to Greenpeace and other civil liberties activists the delay in indicting the group and the obscure nature of the crime is politically motivated due to Greenpeace's ongoing criticism of President Bush's environmental policies. The US Attorney prosecuting the case has thus far declined a respose to these comments.

According to Voice of America:

The two Greenpeace activists who boarded the ship two years ago are not involved in the case. They and four others involved pleaded no contest and spent several days in jail. Federal prosecutors charged Greenpeace USA under the sailor mongering statute 15 months after the incident.

If convicted Greenpeace USA could face a $10,000 fine, be put on probation and face the loss of its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization.

Critics of the prosecution say if Greenpeace USA is found guilty, the case could have an effect on the the right of free speech enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. In their legal papers, federal prosecutors have acknowledged the case could have an impact on Constitutional rights, but they say they are bound by law to proceed with their prosecution.
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