Free Donziger: Steven Donziger now faces 6 months in jail despite UN calls for his release

Steven Donziger is a human rights lawyer who represented the indigenous people of Ecuador in a class action lawsuit against petrochemical giant Chevron after it had systematically polluted a vast area of rainforest during the two decades of the 70s and 80s in what has been dubbed the ‘Amazon Chernobyl’. Following a landmark judgment that awarded nearly $10 billion in damages, Chevron has since refused to pay any of the compensation to the tens of thousands of victims of its toxic spills, but instead withdrew all of its assets from Ecuador and launched legal action against Donziger.

On Friday 1st October, after more than two years under house arrest, Steven Donziger was sentenced to six months in prison for a misdemeanour. While still under house arrest pending appeal, yesterday [October 7th] he spoke with independent journalist and activist Katie Halper, who was joined by guests Marianne Willamson and Chris Hedges:

Click here to read more about the case in a previous article.

The following statement is reproduced in full from an email I also received yesterday from the Free Donziger campaign. Highlights using bold, italics and capitals have been retained from the original.

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On Friday, October 1st, 2021, Judge Preska sentenced me to six months in jail. It has taken days for me and my family to process this shocking turn of events. I now want to speak directly to my supporters.

First, I want you to know that I believe I could be forced into prison as soon as the week of October 25 unless the federal appellate court intervenes to keep me “out” under house arrest with the ankle bracelet still shackled to my leg. Yes, it appears the “choice” is not between prison and freedom while my appeal winds its way slowly through the courts, but between prison and home confinement. It’s just outrageous given that I have now served four times longer under house arrest than my prison sentence. And if I am allowed to stay home, I likely will have served close to four years under house arrest on a misdemeanor charge even if I win my appeal and get exonerated.

As a result, I am again asking for immediate help. I need to raise $150,000 by Friday, October 22 to hire two people who can carry forward the work if and when I get incarcerated. Please help by donating what you can. (If I don’t get incarcerated, I am hiring them anyway because we need the help.)

Second, I want you to know that I am fine and that my family is standing strong. Obviously, this experience causes great pain to our son in particular. But the overwhelming response from our supporters has thus far fortified our sense that the future will be secure. As many know, I have for years been targeted with withering attacks from 60 Chevron law firms in retaliation for helping Indigenous peoples in Ecuador fight back against the company for dumping billions of gallons of cancer-causing oil waste onto ancestral lands. While we expect those attacks to continue, we are steadfast in our determination to withstand them.

My pending prison sentence is incredibly difficult for me and my family, but for the climate movement as a whole it is potentially a disaster of epic proportions. That is, unless we either stop it or use it as an opportunity to build this campaign even stronger.

Many legal observers believe my sentence is a slap in the face by Judge Preska to the rule of law. It comes after five respected jurists from the top human rights legal body in the world, the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, issued a unanimous decision calling my home detention “arbitrary” and a violation of multiple provisions of international law. The body concluded that my treatment violates my right to a fair trial and my right to an impartial judge. The U.N. jurists also demanded that the United States government IMMEDIATELY free me and pay compensation for the time that I have lost while locked up in home imprisonment.

Despite the fact that the decision from the U.N. Working Group requested that the U.S. government “take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Steven Donziger without delay,” Judge Preska continued to do Chevron’s bidding to silence me and send a message of intimidation to all Earth Defenders.

Day by day, the stakes of this case grow higher. The more Judges Preska and Kaplan attack me, the stronger our movement seems to become. My appellate attorneys already have filed our challenge to this conviction. Now it is as critical as ever that we put an end to Chevron’s two-decade campaign to evade complying with court orders that it compensate the Indigenous peoples in the Amazon that it poisoned.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 68 Nobel Laureates, 475 lawyers and human rights defenders, and several members of Congress, including AOC and Rep. Jim McGovern, have joined us in this fight. Chevron’s plan to silence me is backfiring. But we now must focus on increasing our reach and taking our leverage higher. 

Please help us to expose this incredible human rights violation and ensure that NO environmental advocate or Earth Defender ever goes through this again. Help us hire staff to keep the work going stronger than ever even if I go to prison and am unable to communicate or work.  Will you please chip in $500, $250, $100, $50, $25, or whatever you can today to help fight Judge Preska’s decision and keep me out of jail while guaranteeing this work continues?

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Filed under campaigns & events, Ecuador, USA

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