Greenpeace seeks dismissal of criminal charges

Posted: Friday, December 01, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Greenpeace is asking the state to drop corporate criminal misdemeanor charges filed over the group's protests against North Star, BP's offshore oil installation in the Beaufort Sea.

The environmental organization filed motions in Barrow District Court seeking dismissal of trespass and criminal mischief charges filed after seven people in August boarded a 420-foot barge carrying equipment to the Northstar installation about 200 miles east of Barrow.

Spokeswoman Melanie Duchin said Greenpeace believes it's the first time that corporate misdemeanor charges have been filed by the state against a nonprofit advocacy group.

''Greenpeace has been unjustly singled out by the state as a corporate defendant to hinder our First Amendment right to inform the public about Northstar and to protest oil development,'' Duchin said.

Greenpeace contends that the offshore field is environmentally dangerous and that BP should spend money to develop alternative energy sources instead.

Assistant Attorney General Dean Guaneli rejects the claim of selective prosecution. He said the state has prosecuted other organizations and companies, including a North Slope construction firm for a wrongful death and even the Alaska Railroad.

Guaneli said the state will provide a list of other corporations that have been prosecuted in response to the Greenpeace filing.

Greenpeace is charged with one count of criminal trespass and one of criminal mischief, or tampering with the property of another. The organization could be fined $25,000 for each count or double the damage to a victim, whichever is greater, Guaneli said.

Greenpeace members boarded the barge about 70 miles east of Barrow. Tugboats turned it around and brought it back to Barrow, where the protesters were arrested.

All seven pleaded no contest to criminal trespass Monday and were sentenced to one day in jail, with credit for time served, and a $750 fine.

Duchin said Greenpeace members decide individually when they will engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and take responsibility for their actions when they do so. Filing against the organization for such minor offenses shows the pro-development attitude of the state, she said.

''It is clear that Gov. Knowles' administration favors oil development at any cost to the environment, and will take any steps it can to squelch Greenpeace's efforts to alert the public to the dangers of climate change and other impacts of Northstar and oil development in the arctic,'' Duchin said.

But Guaneli said Greenpeace must take responsibility for its role. While the organization views what members do as advocacy, ''Another characterization is that they're simply encouraging people to break the law,'' Guaneli said.

The state also is interested in protecting people, he said. Past Greenpeace demonstrations have endangered workers, protesters, and the state troopers who make arrests, he said, and climbing on top of drilling equipment over open arctic water qualifies.

''We consider that fairly dangerous,'' he said.

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