SPEAK FOUNDERS FACING IMPRISONMENT
For the past two years, SPEAK have insisted that the only reason Oxford University have sought injunctions against the group is not to protect themselves from illegal actions (since none but the most naive would believe an injunction can be an effective deterrent to someone intent on committing an illegal act), but to silence and ultimately destroy the legitimate campaign, which has proved a thorn in their side since 2004. The news that Oxford University is now seeking to imprison two of the founders of SPEAK - Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton – merely serves to illustrate what SPEAK have maintained all along. The University’s self-serving agenda has consistently proved that they are not the "bastion of free speech" they claim to be; they have ridden roughshod over the democratic principles for which this country was once known, and have made a mockery of civil liberties in the pursuit of furthering the immoral and fraudulent science they practise.
At the heart of this legal fiasco is the question: why has it become illegal in this country to publicly oppose something of questionable morality and scientific value? What crimes are the two campaigners alleged to have committed? Have they been exposed for committing illegal actions in the pursuit of their goal? Well, here’s the odd thing: no. And that’s because SPEAK has always operated within a legal framework. The truth is that Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton have been charged with no offence and have committed no illegal act. Given which, it does seem rather peculiar that they might end up serving a custodial sentence for crimes they haven’t committed…
So what is their alleged crime? It’s quite simple really: they are facing imprisonment not for what they have done but for what they have said. Yes that’s right, in the 21st century in Blair’s Britain, two people are possibly facing prison because they have dared to speak out against something they object to, yet have broken no laws and committed no crime. Is this democracy?
The current proceedings were a knee-jerk response to a web posting on 16th October, when the campaign went public with the name of the builder of the Oxford animal torture lab. Solicitors for the University lost no time in scurrying to the High Court to seek an interim Order to ban SPEAK from naming the building contractor. Since the British legal system appears to have been hijacked by big business, the result was a foregone conclusion. Exploiting the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, initially put on the statute books to protect vulnerable women, corporations are being enabled to render illegal today what was legal yesterday. It would appear that if you have enough money, you are able to both abuse and misuse the English legal system, tailoring the law to suit your own needs at any given time.
Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton were summoned to appear at the High Court in the Strand in London on the 19th October. In what can only be described as a complete travesty of justice of the sort more characteristic of oppressive regimes, the two were denied any legal representation, were not afforded the opportunity of seeing legal documents before the proceedings, and found themselves having to face the court without any legal knowledge or legal experience whatsoever, unaware of what charges were being made against them. Furthermore, the judge dismissed the media from the courtroom on the grounds that references would be made to the name of the laboratory builder. This was slightly flawed logic, given that the builders’ name is well-known, and still appears on major news service websites.
So, to recap: the two accused had no legal representation, had not received the legal papers they were entitled to see before going to Court, and were having to defend themselves in a closed courtroom against a team of lawyers representing Oxford University, who – lest it be forgotten - are being funded by the Government. That means taxpayers’ money - your money – is being used to facilitate a miscarriage of justice.
The two SPEAK representatives requested an adjournment so that they could mount a proper defence to challenge the accusations in the hefty legal bundles, which they had been given only 5 minutes to look through. However, despite this obvious injustice among a number of others, their request for an adjournment was denied and the hearing went ahead, with the outcome that Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton were banned from naming the builder. Even more bizarre is the fact that the two were next ordered to disclose the names of all those who manage the SPEAK website, are responsible for the management of SPEAK and those responsible for writing the article in which the builder was named. SPEAK were also asked to hand over the list of those who have subscribed to its email alert list. Obviously, this had absolutely nothing to do with Oxford University protecting themselves from illegal action but was purely a fishing expedition and an attempt by the university to destroy SPEAK.
SPEAK would like to reassure those that have subscribed to our email alerts that your identities are totally safe; they are not controlled by SPEAK in the UK but by supporters outside the UK, so no matter what happens, our email alert list will never fall into the hands of Oxford University. Our supporters’ safety is paramount to us and every precaution has been taken to secure the civil liberties and freedoms to which you should be entitled in a real democracy.
When we began the campaign in March 2004, we predicted that the battle over the Oxford lab would be a David and Goliath struggle, and that has proved an accurate summation. Pitched against us are Oxford University, the British Government and all the institutions that the government controls. If they weren’t worried, they wouldn’t be trying to imprison two of SPEAK’s founders.
What we are seeing here is a possible taste of things to come. Make no mistake: the whole movement must be alert to the dirty tricks the animal abuse industries are prepared to use to ensure our silence. Today it might be SPEAK representatives facing imprisonment, but who will it be tomorrow?
SPEAK are confident that whatever happens in the High Court on the 19th December, it won’t be the end of the campaign. We firmly believe that strength comes from adversity and that these difficulties are merely stepping stones towards a consolidation of our strength as a growing global movement. We firmly believe that the campaign will become stronger and more determined to stop the torture, maiming and killing of more non-human animals. Oxford University’s misuse of the British legal system to pursue its own ends has exposed its rotten underbelly, but it has also done us the favour of increasing support for our cause. What Oxford University and the British government have failed to grasp is that an ideal is unstoppable - you cannot imprison it and you cannot kill it.
We ask that you stay with us for the journey ahead. It promises be an exciting one, and even if it may seem rocky at times, we have the end in sight. It is imperative – now more than ever before – that we do not falter in our commitment, and that we keep the prize in mind at all times. Victory will not only mean an end to the maiming and torture in vivisection laboratories of millions of sentient creatures; it will also offer real hope for those struck down with illness, who are being misled by the vivisection industry into believing that success in finding cures is guaranteed, as long as scientists continue to use animals for research. Half our battle is persuading people that the ‘facts’ presented by the scientific community are only a carefully selected portfolio of sound bites that conceal a great deal more than they ever reveal. Winning that battle is as important as the moral/ethical debate. The struggle for animal rights is also a struggle for human rights; it is a struggle that opposes a system, which places profits before the lives of both its human and non-human victims.
In pursuing this goal, SPEAK needs your support; just as importantly at this critical time, so do Robert Cogswell and Mel Broughton, SPEAK’s founder members. Oxford University and the Government want to hide behind the safety net of the closed court to conceal the repressive measures that are being used to stifle legitimate opposition to a moral and scientific outrage. We cannot and must not allow that to happen in a free and democratic society. A travesty of justice is taking place. Remember that it is not just our liberty that is at stake here – the repercussions extend to the wider animal rights movement and beyond. Do not become invisible, for if you become invisible, the animals will have no one left to champion their cause. Let your opposition to these proceedings be heard, and join those who refuse to be cowed into silence by the system.
A demonstration will be held outside the High Court in the Strand London on the 19th December. We need a big turnout, so please show your support by attending. More information about the demo will be posted in the next few days. Updates about the proceedings will be posted on the SPEAK website over the next week.
Together we can and will win.
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