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By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
In many Western countries, under to guise of "anti-terrorism," governments are increasingly using the power of the state to disrupt and intimidate animal defenders. In the United Kingdom, after appeals to the police and to animal protection officers went unheeded, Sara Whitehead rescued an abused beagle. She was arrested and sentenced to a remarkable two years in prison, more than for some violent crimes against humans.
Perhaps more ominous has been the prolonged imprisonment of leading animal advocates in Austria. In May, there were armed raids on 28 animal advocates and 7 animal protection group offices. Authorities seized files and computers and arrested 10 people, who were then held without charge. This happened on the eve of a broad campaign by leading Austrian animal protection organizations, which obviously has been thoroughly disrupted.
In the United States, we have seen draconian measures taken against the "SHAC 7" activists who published names and household addresses of people who supported the animal testing lab Huntington Life Sciences. None of the SHAC 7 was involved in violent activities and their web site, though provocative, did not encourage violence. While I personally objected to their form of activism, I have been even more disturbed by our government's response to it, which will likely have a chilling effect on activists of all stripes.
Such a chilling effect has been magnified by the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act, which calls for fines and criminal charges for damaging or "intimidating" enterprises that use (i.e. harm) animals. It has always been against the law to damage private property; levying particularly harsh penalties for those who damage animal enterprises is an unwarranted political move designed to deter a particular group of activists. This intent becomes most apparent when one considers that "intimidate" is a vague term that can government authorities can easily manipulate. If people shout outside a fur store, "This store must go!" the proprietor can claim to have felt intimidated, however peaceful the actions and intent of the demonstrators. To date, nobody has been charged under AETA, but it remains an effective weapon in the government's arsenal that could be activated at any time to imprison nearly anyone who dares to publicly decry animal abuse.
Why have animal advocates been targeted by governments? Animal advocates, more than most activists, threaten the profits of several major industries. Meanwhile, industry and corporate interests have gained increasing power in governments of "democratic" nations. This is particularly the case in the United States, for at least two reasons. As attention spans have constricted and politics has become a series of sound bites, politicians depends increasingly on money for television advertisements. Corporation-funded PACs can generally outspend private citizens for this purpose. The problem is particularly acute in democracies dominated by two parties, which the Electoral College system in the United States favors. In a parliamentary system, it is much easier for smaller interest groups have a voice in government. In the "winner-take-all" arrangement, the two principle ways to influence policy is to represent a large block of voters or to buy votes indirectly by making large contributions that can be used for advertising. Nevertheless, even though thhe animal protection movement is relatively small and not wealthy, it could still have a significant voice if it consistently voted as a block for the candidates with the best animal protection track records. So far, this has not happened.
Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.,Founder, Christian Vegetarian Association http://www.christianveg.com.
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