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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Attorney Claims USA Chills Rights of Environmentalists

WASHINGTON (CN) - An attorney whose client is serving 22 years for destroying private property claims the FBI denied her FOIA request, to cover up the government's "Green Scare" program, meant to chill the speech rights of environmental activists.

New York City attorney Susan Tipograph sued the Department of Justice in Federal Court, seeking records on her client, imprisoned activist Marie Mason.

"The draconian sentencing of Marie Mason to nearly 22 years in federal prison has undoubtedly chilled the free speech practices of other animal rights and environmental activists," Tipograph says in the complaint.

She claims Mason accepted a plea bargain in 2008 to avoid facing a life sentence for the role she played in "two acts of property destruction, which involved damage to a Michigan State University office conducting GMO (genetically modified organism) research and a piece of logging equipment."

Tipograph claims Mason has been placed in a "control-management"-type prison unit because of her status as a political prisoner.

"Ms. Mason is one of the hundreds of activists targeted by the government in its attempt to quell First Amendment protected activity related to animal rights and the environment, which has become known as the 'Green Scare,'" the complaint states.

Tipograph says she sent the FBI a FOIA request for records on Mason in 2011, but was denied under exemption 7a of FOIA, which allows the government to withhold records or information that if released would interfere with law enforcement.

"The Green Scare and the disproportionate sentencing of Ms. Mason for a crime that resulted in no injuries to human life are illustrative of the profound influence of private business on government operations," the complaint states. "Corporate America has played a key role in lobbying the government to create laws and enhanced sentencing that punish political speech and direct action with the potential for disrupting a corporation's bottom line. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is just one example of the government's overreaching, overbroad and unconstitutional legislation designed to privilege the desires of corporations over the rights of citizens to dissent."

Tipograph claims: "Mason is one of many activists who have been labeled a domestic terrorist for engaging in activities with the potential to disrupt corporate profits and, as a result, received an unduly harsh sentence for crimes that are routinely punished with much less severe consequences."

Since 2000, the government has prosecuted and imprisoned several environmental activists, including Mason, on felony charges spanning from arson to conspiracy to damage telephone towers.

Tipograph wants the court to declare the FBI in violation of FOIA, and order the agency to release the records immediately.

She is represented by Jeffrey Light.

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