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“Animal Terrorist Group Foiled by Informant Dressed as a Beagle,” declared a headline in The Sunday Times on March 1. The article by Jack Grimston details how Adrian Radford, an intelligence services instructor and former member of the British military, spent three years inside the Animal Liberation Front. Radford, who used the name Ian Farmer, was widely known for the beagle costume he wore at demonstrations; the costume had been supplied by the police. According to Grimston, Radford allegedly participated in a number of raids and supplied his handlers with information that Grimston implies led to the arrest of activists with the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign.
In January 2009, seven members of SHAC ― Daniel Amos, Gregg Avery, Natasha Avery, Gavin Medd-Hall, Heather Nicholson, Gerrah Selby and Daniel Wadham ― were sentenced to prison for their six-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences after having been found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail.
Grimston writes: “In January 2007, the police finally pulled Radford out to allow them to round up the group’s leadership without arousing suspicion. They put him under surveillance so that it appeared to the ALF that he was compromised and being panicked into leaving.”
Activists posting comments on the UK’s Indymedia site, however, have a different view. They have pointed out a variety of errors in Grimston’s reporting, such as stating that ALF has leadership.
“[Radford] knows full well that SHAC is NOT the ALF and that Greg, Natasha, Heather and Mel [Broughton] are NOT ALF leaders, the ALF is an idea, it has no leaders, ” writes UK activist Lynn Sawyer.
A campaigner using the name Ian Skivens (actually a police officer well known among UK activists) adds: “It’s quite funny really, that this guy achieved nothing, except according to the article, supplying SHAC with a nice beagle costume. Thanks NETCU [National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit] — keep the gifts coming!”
When 10 activists from Austria’s Association Against Animal Factories (“Verein gegen Tierfabriken,” or VGT) were arrested in May 2008 and charged with “suspected forming of a criminal organization in connection with direct animal right actions,” activists around the world were quick to show their support. Animal Liberation Victoria even carried out an open rescue in solidarity with the prisoners, saving 13 hens from a battery-egg operation in June. All the attention shined a spotlight on the Austrian government, which released the activists in September. Clearly, in an age when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can become law with hardly an objection from lawmakers, anyone might find themselves behind bars for voicing an opinion not in step with the status quo.
“It’s important for us to be vocal and active about supporting people who have been incarcerated for defending animals ― or even just speaking out in their defense ― because it relays a clear message that the people abusing animals are the real criminals, not the people trying to protect them,” says Dallas Rising, president of Support Vegans in the Prison System (Support VIPS). “Supporting political prisoners of any kind makes a difference for the individual, but especially for animal rights activists. The average animal rights prisoner has very little in common with the general prison population, so having a connection to people who share a similar value system can be very important to people who are isolated, bored and frustrated by the lack of meaningful exchange in their environment.”
Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating animals from several fur farms in 1997, believes that supporting humans in prison sends a strong message to activists that there is a safety net for them if they are caught engaging in illegal actions on behalf of non-human animals. “This peace of mind makes the work of people fighting for animals under darkness much easier,” he says. “I have also found the stories of animal rights prisoners to be powerful outreach. These stories of people breaking the law to save animals raise the bar and bring those new to the issue a sense that if other people are willing to break the law to save animals, the least they can do is be vegan.”
There are many ways to help imprisoned activists, and providing a little support to someone facing years in jail can buoy that person’s morale and nurture solidarity in the movement. I am going to focus on five main methods: writing letters, sending books, visiting, helping vegan inmates get plant-based food and providing financial support (sending money, helping with legal expenses, etc.).
The first step is knowing where inmates are, and the easiest place to find addresses for animal activists serving time is the Internet:
- Bite Back magazine maintains a list of prisoners that the publisher updates weekly.
- The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) site lists activists currently serving sentences for their actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
- The Vegan Prisoners Support Group lists inmates in the UK (including SHAC).
- A SHAC7 support site in the US is also worth checking out.
Cards and letters are paramount to relieving an inmate’s feeling of isolation; however, all mail is opened and read by prison officials, so don’t write anything that may cause problems for the prisoner. “Depending on the prisoner, do not discuss the case or anything related to the case,” advises attorney Shannon Keith, who has represented a number of animal rights activists and campaigns, including SHAC and Sea Shepherd. “Do not discuss your feelings about whether the person is innocent or guilty.” She also says that most prisons do not accept anything other than letters and photos. “So, no stickers ― especially no animal rights stickers. No pictures depicting protests.”
Dallas cautions supporters not to take it personally if the inmate doesn’t respond. “It is not about you,” she says. “Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t write back to you, especially if they didn’t know you before going in. And even if they did know you, they may not have the mental or emotional energy to write back. Or they simply may not have the time.”
Unless you’re lucky enough to have unlimited time and resources, commit to writing just one or two inmates, and do it consistently.
Here are a few more letter-writing do’s and don’ts.
- Write on both sides of the paper.
- Write your address on the letter or card.
- Number the pages of your letter.
- Make sure the content of any photos you sent is appropriate; write the inmate’s name and prisoner ID number on the back of photos.
- Let imprisoned activists know about animal activism going on around the world.
- Send currency.
- Send stamps, envelopes, blank paper or blank note cards.
- Tape your envelope closed.
- Include paperclips, staples or other metal objects inside your letter.
- Send food or care packages.
- Send photographs larger than 4”x6”. No Polaroid photos.
- Write “legal mail” on the envelope or anything in your letter that implies you are an attorney.
“Letters to a prisoner can be like anchors or lifelines to the outside world,” says Andy Stepanian, who served two years and seven months in prison for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as part of the SHAC campaign (he was released in December 2008). “Although my mail was vetted for content, I still received bundles of letters, and every time I did I felt like I could hold my head a little higher. The letters reminded me of where I came from and what I was fighting for.”
Most inmates appreciate receiving books, since reading is one way to pass the time behind bars. It’s a good idea to write to the prisoner first to confirm he or she can receive books; you can also ask what kinds of books they would like to read.
Books sent to most prisons must be new and with a soft cover (paperback); hardcover books will either be refused or prison officials will tear off the covers before passing the book on to the inmate. Unfortunately, many prisons will not permit you to mail a book to an inmate yourself; instead, books must be sent either directly from the publisher or through an online retailer such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Prisoners are often able to list books they would like to receive on Amazon’s Wish List section (just search the inmate’s name), or through a support group Web site.
Each US federal prison has set up certain days and times ― visiting hours — for family and friends to visit inmates. The inmate you plan to visit should tell you what the hours are for that prison. But you can’t simply show up and expect to see an inmate.
“Most prisons require that you be accepted and on an approved list first, so before you take your trip to the prison, call to make sure you do not have to be approved first,” says Shannon. “If so, mail the prisoner and ask them to fill out a form for your visit. You will receive an approval later, and then you can visit as you please during visiting hours. When visiting, know that you are being watched and possibly recorded. Avoid discussing legally sensitive subjects. Dress appropriately.”
In the UK, visiting a convicted prisoner requires you to first have a visiting order (a “VO”); these are generally issued to inmates once a month, and he or she will mail it to you. Depending on the prisoner, visits are one to two hours, and prisoners may be allowed between two and four visitors a month. For more information on Visiting inmates in the UK, click here.
If a city or county jail is denying a prisoner access to vegan meals, a few phone calls to the warden can help, says Dallas. “There’s not a lot people can do to help make sure a vegan is getting good food in a federal prison, but in a jail, phone calls matter a lot.”
Peter agrees. “Mob-action phone calls work,” he says. “You can’t overstate how concerned most jailers are with outside scrutiny. I have never had a problem with food that 100 phone calls in six hours did not fix. One jail was so concerned about the perceived threat of angry activists they sent a sheriff to the supermarket each morning, with a shopping list I wrote with my own hand.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can help with prisons. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says it is best if the judge orders the prison to provide vegan food before the convicted vegan heads to jail. “If your judge orders it, you’re set.” Failing that, family and friends on the outside can help by contacting PETA. “PETA is always ready to work to get vegan food for anyone who is having trouble,” says Bruce.
Although prisons may not be known for their vegan fare, some have surprisingly good plant-based food options, including lentil shepherd’s pie, vegan pizza, veggie burgers and mock meats. Here is PETA’s list of the top 10 veg-friendly US prisons.
Prisoners must pay for envelopes, postage stamps, phone cards and other necessities. They may even have to buy their own vegan food from the prison commissary. They probably also have legal fees. All these expenses can be offset with a fundraising effort managed by friends on the outside. Some organizations, like SHAC, set these up and allow people to donate online. Moreover, they raise funds through benefit concerts, film screenings and product sales.
“Fundraising for costly legal fees is always appreciated,” says Dallas. “As a bonus, you automatically have something to write about.”
You can also support inmates by sending money directly to their commissary account. The US Bureau of Prisons has a system to maintain an inmate’s monies while he or she is incarcerated. Family, friends or other sources may deposit funds into these accounts. For details on options for depositing funds into a prisoner’s account, click here.
You might also consider money-transfer services like JPay that allow you to get funds to a prisoner the next business day.
Prisoner Support Groups
SVIPS – United States
Founded by Dallas Rising, Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer, Support Vegans in the Prison System (SVIPS) assists prisoners needing vegan food, toiletries and general support.
VPSG – United Kingdom
Vegan Prisoners Support Group (VPSG) helps prisoners obtain vegan food, vegan toiletries and vegan footwear. British animal rights activist Jo-Ann Brown formed the group in 1994 to aid activist Keith Mann. Since then, VPSG’s work has grown, and it has been called upon to advise on disputes between prisoners and the prison service relating to vegan diets. Though based in the UK, VPSG supports prisoners in other countries. While incarcerated in Austria last August, for example, VGT activist Elmar Völkl wrote: “The Vegan Prisoner Support Group work must have been very good, because from the first day I got vegan food (on the first day I didn’t get anything), although I didn’t ever mention the word ‘vegan’ once!”
ALFSG – United Kingdom
The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) is a legal, above-ground organization that provides financial and practical support to those who find themselves in prison as part of the movement.
Advice from Prisoners of Conscience
Peter Young gave a talk on prisoner support at last year’s Let Live conference, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
SHAC activist Lauren Gazzola believes no form of support is better than activists staying active. Lauren, now serving a four-year, four-month sentence at a federal prison in Connecticut, told Abolitionist Online: “[T]o everyone who has written, sent books, donated, or done any other form of direct support, please know that the best form of support we can receive is vicarious ― please get out and fight for the animals. Step up your efforts, no matter where you currently stand in your activism ― take one step further, inspired by the SHAC7, and make our conviction a victory for the animals.”
“It’s easy to get lost in prison,” says Andy. “Lost in solitude, despair or other negative sentiments. Letters and outside support help pull you out of that space and strengthen you, make you whole.” Andy encourages people on the outside not to be deterred if they don’t know what to write about. “What many fail to understand is that the prisoner is just eager to make contact, to hear good news about movement victories or reconnect with an old friend. If you are a stranger, don’t feel discouraged. I can speak from firsthand experience that on some of my worst days while imprisoned, it was the words of a stranger that helped me trudge through another day. Something as simple as describing a beautiful day outside may mean the world to a prisoner at that moment when they open your envelope.”
A new documentary was released this week exposing the global primate trade and the treatment of these animals inside the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) testing facilities in England. Produced by Animal Defenders International (ADI), Save the Primates shows animals being taken from their homes in the wild and delivered directly to laboratories. HLS in Cambridgeshire is a major contract testing operation for multinational product brands; it can hold up to 550 monkeys at a time. During ADI’s one-year undercover investigation, 217 monkeys were killed in just five studies.
This new investigation is part of a European initiative to ban the use of primates in experiments and is being coordinated by ADI and the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS). Among the horrors Save the Primates reveals:
In South America, owl monkeys scream as they are torn from their families in the rainforest to be taken to Colombia for malaria experiments.
In Vietnam, monkeys frantically rattle their tiny, rusting cages while being held captive by a primate supplier approved by the UK Home Office. (In a single year, this business supplied nearly 500 monkeys to HLS.)
In the UK, primates are used in commercial testing at HLS in Cambridgeshire. The video shows struggling monkeys strapped into chairs and forced to inhale products. Many of the animals are housed in one-cubic-meter cages and then taken out to be held down by workers as tubes are forced down their throats.
The new “Save the Primates” report and investigation are part of a comprehensive study linking primate research and the international primate trade to the alternatives that are now available. Hoping to secure Europe-wide support for an end primate tests, ADI and NAVS have produced Save the Primates in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.
“There is a unique opportunity in Europe to finally begin phasing out experiments on primates,” says ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer. “Nobody looking at the undercover footage of monkeys at this leading UK laboratory could fail to be moved by the stress and suffering these animals are forced to endure. Yet there are alternatives to using monkeys in these tests. Now that the truth of everyday suffering has been revealed, we must seize the opportunity to put an end to it.”
If you expected that new laws, police spying and government repression around the world would cause animal activism to abate, you’re not alone. The businesses that rely on animal exploitation to line their pockets have gone so far as to support the suspension of civil rights in order to keep their vivisection labs, fur farms and factory farms safe from interference by animal-rights advocates.
Yet even with the prison terms given to some animal activists in recent years (see here and here), activism is on the rise. An article published this week in New Scientist warns that activist strategies that originated in the United Kingdom have spread to the United States and Europe.
Though they’ve gone underground in some cases, and their methods can be extreme, animal campaigners have indeed been active. Crackdowns on activists in Austria, the UK and the US have only seemed to escalate the level of animal-rights activism. The open rescue model of activism, for example ― in which activists sneak into factory farms to rescue animals ― was once practiced primarily in Australia, New Zealand and the US. But recently, activists in Spain and the Czech Republic have embraced this non-violent, direct action tactic to liberate animals. And after the SHAC 7 activists were sentenced in 2006, campaigners dedicated animal liberations to them; the same occurred in the UK SHAC case, with activists showing their solidarity by staging peaceful demos.
Of course, animal exploiters will continue to fight the animal-rights movement. In an interview with the Cattle Network last year, Steve Kopperud of Policy Directions, Inc., which lobbies on behalf of agribusiness, had this to say about dealing with activists and animal rights groups: “Processors and retailers who find themselves the target of public relations blackmail or worse, or companies who have adopted an attitude toward the animal rights movement of ‘give them something and make them go away,’ we must provide to them the public support and help they need if they’re to make the tough decision to tell the animal rightists to go pound salt. We must join with them in pushing back a movement that has a single, clear goal: To put us out of business. You will never placate an enemy that seeks your demise, especially an enemy which has the patience — and resources — to wait you out.”
Seven members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) were sentenced today in the UK for their six-year campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
Heather Nicholson was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while Greg and Natasha Avery received nine-year sentences. Daniel Amos received a four-year sentence, Gavin Medd-Hall was sentenced to eight years and Gerrah Selby and Daniel Wadham got four and five years respectively.
The seven were found guilty of conspiracy to blackmail by Winchester Crown Court, in southern England, last month. Trevor Holmes, another SHAC activist, had been cleared in the case.
Greg and Heather started SHAC in 1999 after undercover video footage taken by PETA inside an HLS lab was aired on British television. The footage showed staff shaking, punching, shouting and laughing at beagles. The HLS employees were dismissed and prosecuted, and HLS’s license to perform animal experiments was revoked for six months.
HLS, now Europe’s largest commercial animal-testing lab, conducts tests on about 75,000 animals every year, including beagles, rats, rabbits, pigs and primates (marmosets, macaques, and wild-caught baboons). These animals are killed in a variety of experiments for food additives, cosmetics, artificial sweeteners, pesticides, paints, dyes and other household products. HLS also uses animals in drug research.
SHAC campaigns against customers who provide HLS with an income and profits, as well as suppliers who provide HLS with vital tools to carry out research. They also target financial links, such as shareholders, market makers and banking facilities. SHAC has called for a mass boycott of HLS and is asking all companies doing business with Huntingdon to denounce on animal cruelty.
Previous SHAC campaigns closed down a dog breeder who supplied beagles for vivisection, a cat farm that sold kittens as young as 10 days old to laboratories worldwide, a farm that sold primates for experiments and a breeder who supplied rabbits to the vivisection industry.
“I hope today’s sentences send a strong message that, in a democratic society, campaigning needs to remain lawful, and that those who cross the line into extremist activity will be brought to justice,” said Detective Chief Inspector Andy Robbins, who led the investigation into SHAC.
In 2006, six SHAC activists were convicted and sent to jail in the U.S. on “animal enterprise terrorism” charges, which amounted to running a Web site. The site listed the home and work addresses for those doing business with HLS.
A movie about SHAC is currently in production.
Four members of the Cambridge-based (UK) group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) were convicted Tuesday of blackmail for running a campaign against companies and individuals with links to Huntingdon Life Sciences.
Gerrah Selby, 20, Daniel Wadham, 21, Gavin Medd-Hall, 45, and Heather Nicholson, 41, were convicted over the six-year campaign, which prosecutors say was designed to shut down the animal research laboratory based in Cambridge.
Four other activists had also been involved: Gregg Avery, 45, his wife, Natasha Avery, and Daniel Amos, 22, had earlier pleaded guilty to the same charge. Trevor Holmes, 51, was acquitted.
The activists were accused of targeting employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences, Europe’s largest contract medical testing center, with threats of violence, vandalism of homes and businesses, letter bombs and firebombs between 2001 and 2007. A jury at the Winchester Crown Court took more than 33 hours to convict the four, who had pleaded not guilty.
“The sole aim of SHAC was to close down the business of Huntingdon Life Sciences in Cambridgeshire because they use animals in the testing of pharmaceutical products,” said Alastair Nisbet, a senior prosecutor.
Steven Bird, a lawyer for the defendants, said they were very disappointed at the outcome. “We will consider any grounds for appeal in the next couple of weeks and advise our clients accordingly,” he said.
The four will be sentenced on January 19. They face up to 14 years in prison.
Update: Sentences handed down.