Like the animals whose rights he was advocating for, Andrew Stepanian has spent the past two years confined in a restrictive prison cell. He was convicted of a violation of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA), a bill that seeks to criminalize many respected forms of non-violent organizing. He has just been released after serving a two-year sentence in shockingly restrictive conditions. This morning Stepanian appeared with Will Potter and Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. This is the first time he has spoken publicly about his time in prison.
Being held in a restrictive, illegal prison
Since being labeled a terrorist/extremist he was held with other suspected terrorists in a secretive prison within a prison, called a Communication Management Unit (CMU). The CMU allowed for only very little communication with the outside world. His single weekly phone call was scheduled in advance and was carefully monitored by multiple parties. In the interview, Stepanian describes his experiences in prison and discusses how he plans to re-integrate into the animal movement. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit with him challenging the legality of CMUs and calling public attention to these secretive prisons.
Why was Andrew arrested?
He was never charged with acts of violence or property damage. Nonetheless, Stepanian and his co-defendants have been repeated called a terrorist by the US government. Andy was active in a campaign to end animal testing at one of the most notorious vivisection laboratories, Huntington Life Sciences. HLS has been exposed multiple times for animal abuse. Videos from undercover investigators shows employees punching beagles, conducting cruel experiments and confining animals in concrete and metal cells. Along with 5 other activists and the organization, Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty (SHAC), Stepanian was charged with operating the SHAC website that they say violated the AEPA. The federal prosecutors argued that the since the website reported on every action taken by grassroots activists, even anonymous ones that involved property damage, these 6 people were conspiring with these anonymous activists. That’s just bologna. It’s plain and simple, Andy Stepanian and the other 5 SHAC activists were singled-out because they were speaking out publicly and organizing public demonstrations against animal testing at the Huntington labs.
An update on the AETA
Since the SHAC 7 conviction, the Animal Enterprise Protection Act has been made even more scary. It is now called the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act and is more over-broad than before. It attempts to define many forms of non-violent civil disobedience as “terrorism”. It is necessary to challenge this law in the courts, but there are also organizations out there who are trying to convince legislators to repeal the AETA.
What can I do?
For more info about how to organize against the AETA and support prisoners of conscience in the United States visit the Equal Justice Alliance. For up-to-date news, read GreenIsTheNewRed.com.
photo cred: shac7.com