Tag Archives: Steven Donziger

inside the belly of the beast: Steven Donziger reports from prison

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Further Update:

On Thursday December 9th after more than forty days in jail, the prison administration took the decision to release Steve Donziger and permit him to serve out the rest of his sentence under home confinement. Upon his return, he gave the following interview with independent journalist and activist Marianne Williamson:

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Update:

Today, Steven’s legal team will urge a three-judge panel to reverse Judge Preska’s Chevron-financed “conviction” after he dared to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. His family and our movement need your help to bring him home.

Steven Donziger is the first lawyer in U.S. history to be imprisoned for the misdemeanor crime of contempt. It is no coincidence he is one of our nation’s most successful environmental justice advocates. For the last ten years, Chevron and its 60 law firms have done everything in their power to weaponize the legal system to target Steven after he helped Indigenous peoples in Ecuador win a historic $9.5 billion pollution judgment against Chevron.

It is both unethical and despicable that Chevron and its allies in the fossil fuel industry have abused our courts to target Steven — especially after the U.N. last September determined his detention was “arbitrary” and ordered the U.S. government to release him because of a “staggering” lack of impartiality by the Chevron-linked judges in his case. The five esteemed jurists from the U.N. found the bias against Steven by Judges Preska and Kaplan violated his right to a fair trial. Anyone at the trial last May could see it for the farce that it was: Judge Preska denied Steven a jury of his peers and read the newspaper during witness testimony.

Today, Steven is on the 34th day of his maximum six-month prison sentence for the lowest-level federal offense possible under the legal code. Let’s remember why: Steven was the person who helped hold Chevron accountable for deliberately poisoning the Amazon and decimating five Indigenous peoples — the Secoya, Cofán, Guarani, Quechua, and Siona. Steven also was sent to a federal prison after already serving more than two years under house arrest prior to trial. His pre-trial detention alone is more than seven times longer than the longest sentence ever imposed on a lawyer for the same charge.

We also had a major breakthrough this week. Nine Congresspersons, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, sent the Biden Administration a blistering letter demanding the DOJ finally take action to both free Steven and take control of his case from Chevron law firm Seward & Kissel. Private corporate prosecutions cannot happen in any country that purports to adhere to the rule of law. As Rep. Tlaib said: “This is a test case for corporate polluters. They think they found a path for escape justice, but they’ve only just awoken our people.”  

We cannot allow this miscarriage of justice to continue. We cannot stand by and watch a supposed liberal democracy like the United States of America lock up its human rights lawyers — and descend into the ranks of a notorious club of rogue states that includes China, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Belarus. Steven is the first major test case of a fossil fuel industry playbook to try to intimidate those who challenge the fact that extractive industries are destroying the planet for our children and grandchildren.

Judge Preska’s “conviction” of Steven is not only a violation of international law, it brazenly undermines the U.S. Constitution. Steven was prosecuted privately by a Chevron law firm after the regular federal prosecutor rejected the case. Steven’s lead lawyer in his argument today, the great U. of Texas professor Stephen Vladeck, will be before three judges appointed by President Trump. We are urging these judges to resist falling into Chevron’s and Preska’s demonization trap and take the legal issues seriously: we simply cannot have private corporate prosecutions in this country.

Today’s argument represents a major chance to bring Steven home. If we win the decision, it will be game over for the nightmare orchestrated by Judges Kaplan and Preska to try to silence Steven, and he will be released. 

The original post begins below the asterisk.

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On the eve of his appellate argument [Nov 30th] to overturn Judge Preska’s “conviction” in a trial found to violate international law, I am reposting letters sent by international human rights and environmental lawyer Steven Donziger from his prison cell in Connecticut (with original emphasis retained throughout).

Message received Fri 19th:

I am finally able to write directly from inside the belly of the beast: the federal prison in Danbury, CT. I am now on day 23 of my incarceration, and the experience has been nothing short of mind-blowing. I am living with another person in a 54 sq ft cell; next door is a 37-year-old man, one of the kindest people I have ever met. He was sentenced to a 35-year term for gang violence when he was 19. Three people in my unit of 80 or so men are lifers and have over 30 years in the system.

The length of the sentences for various crimes is astounding. We are unique as a country for the extraordinarily punitive nature of our criminal justice system. And it sickens me to see it from the inside. All of us here are simply raw material for a business built largely on money and politics that has virtually nothing to do with rehabilitation (although there are staff here working miracles against all odds to help inmates adjust to the outside).

This is considered a “low” security prison, but the conditions are extremely limiting. No Internet, almost no newspapers, limited phone calls and email, and almost no contact with the outside world. The food is scarce; no fresh vegetables, little fruit, extremely small portions which forces the mostly impoverished inmates to supplement their diets by buying junk food at the commissary where prices can be 50% higher than the corner store in New York City. It can take weeks for a visitor to get approved; one man has not seen his kids (now aged 5 and 7) in two years because of COVID restrictions. There is a total shortage of staff, programming, and no way to get a college degree. I will only be able to write very infrequently, if at all.

Having said that, please consider this: Chevron and Judges Preska and Kaplan thought they could snuff out my advocacy by dumping me into this place. They could not be more wrong. Not only is the prison bubbling with humanity and kindness, the likes of which one rarely sees on the outside, but the support for me and the affected communities of Ecuador both in my unit and around the world has literally exploded as a result of this obvious act of corporate persecution. I am becoming stronger, more resilient, and more understanding as a person. And I have almost boundless energy to continue the fight as a result of sharing this largely miserable experience with so many people from all walks of life.

I am getting dozens of letters a day from around the world. My friends in the unit love it when the letters come. Some read them and slap their knees with incredulity. How can one prisoner get so much mail? Others remove the stamps to use as “currency,” an off-the-books economic system that allows inmates the autonomy to trade goods and services among themselves.

In the meantime, here is a concrete update on case developments:

  • My appellate argument to overturn Judge Preska’s “conviction” of me in the Chevron-financed non-jury contempt trial will take place on Nov. 30. This is an extremely accelerated schedule which shows the concern of the court that a great injustice might be taking place. That said, I believe judges in New York generally are closing rank behind Kaplan and Preska because our campaign has been so effective that it has challenged the institutional credibility of the federal judiciary as a whole. While I am always optimistic, I fully expect to lose this appeal and spend the balance of my six-months sentence in prison. That said, my legal team already has decided it is likely we will take the issue off the nation’s first corporate prosecution to the US Supreme Court if necessary.
  • Our support in Congress is growing by leaps and bounds. A new letter organized by Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Chuy Garcia demanding my immediate release is gathering signatures as we speak. The letter urges The Biden administration to “send a clear signal that it stands with communities harmed by pollution and environmental destruction and the lawyers courageous enough to represent them and not the corporations that benefit from polluting the water, air, and land of local people.”
  • Law students nationwide are preparing to organize a work boycott of the two corporate law firms (Seward and Gibson Dunn) that Chevron has used to try to demonize and prosecute me. The Seward law firm should really be ashamed; that firm has been held by the United Nations to be in violation of multiple provisions of international law by prosecuting me.
  • Several human rights organizations are launching a campaign on Nov. 29 to demand President Biden pardon me — both because it is the right thing to do to correct the injustice, and also to bring the US government into conformity with international law consistent with the ruling from the United Nations.

Now, the money question. We need more funds to carry forward with these and other important activities. We need to pay people to support themselves to do this vital work. While I am locked up, the campaign must not just continue but also get stronger and more effective. Because of the incredible efforts of so many people, including my wife Laura and legal assistant Matt Burton, we are succeeding. In fact, the day I reported to prison, we gained 20,000 new followers on Twitter and many more on Instagram.

I know many already donated on the financial end. If you are not in a position to help now, please don’t worry; your support is being expressed in so many other ways and is deeply appreciated. But if you can dig deep and match your previous donation, please do. If you have not given, please consider making a donation. We are building this big with the ultimate goal of not only getting me out of this institution as soon as possible but also to put our human rights legal team in a position to finally hold Chevron fully accountable and force it to pay the full amount of the pollution judgment to the Indigenous peoples and farmers in Ecuador’s Amazon.

Thanks again to everybody for jumping into this extraordinary campaign and building this collective action that is literally changing the paradigm of the fossil fuel industry and helping to wake up the world to the promise of what citizen action can accomplish. I wake up each day in prison with a hop in my step because of you and the possibilities we have created together.

In solidarity,

Steven Donziger

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Message received Wed 24th:

My prison experience is getting even tougher: yesterday, the Danbury prison went on a total lockdown due to a COVID breakout. That means we cannot get out except for two hours per week. About 80 men are crammed into our unit, where two people occupy cells meant for one. Social distancing is impossible, few wear masks, there is no COVID testing, people are sick, nobody knows who has COVID, and word on the prison street is that the rate of vaccination among the guards is less than 50%. Medical staff appears so overwhelmed it often takes ten days or more to see a doctor, even when exhibiting severe symptoms.

I’m not going to lie: I actually feel if I get seriously ill inside this place, I could die.

I’m not alone in that feeling among my new friends inside. To know you are so at the mercy of others if an emergency were to arise is a heavy and awful emotional burden. Worse, it is sometimes hard to get the professionals here to acknowledge the validity of how your body feels to you. Most of my fellow residents (“inmates”) say staff here often accuse them of faking symptoms when they ask to see a doctor.

That said, it is Thanksgiving which is my favorite holiday of the year in the United States. I think of Native Americans who had their territory overrun by a conquering government that manufactured laws to steal land and distribute it to white settlers. I think of the Cherokee, the Cheyenne, the Choctaw, and so many others. The bravery and the courage. Survivors all. And I think of my family, friends, and all those I love — and all of those who stand behind the Ecuadorian Indigenous peoples who, against all odds, won the historic pollution judgment against Chevron.

It helps to both give thanks to our triumphs and to remember the unpleasant truths.

It is almost unfathomable to me what people are going through here and how they still keep going. The human spirit is really hard to snuff out. Some have spent 30 consecutive Thanksgivings in the federal prison system. When I came, there were three frail men with walkers in my unit (one has since been released). Some inside have not had a visit in years. Others get no mail. Many mark the years by remembering Thanksgiving when the cookies were baked fresh, when they were from a box, and when there were no cookies at all.

The food supposedly will be better on Thursday, but the mess hall has closed because of the lockdown. We will be eating turkey out of styrofoam boxes in our tiny cells, looking at an open-air toilet. That said, I can’t tell you how positive I feel about getting through this and back to the other side to continue our important work.

I am asking again for everybody who can step up and donate to this extraordinary and paradigm-shifting campaign to please do so during the holiday season. We need resources to keep our legal team working full steam and our broader global advocacy operating on all cylinders, especially while I am locked up. And, of course, we need resources to get me out of here as soon as possible.

Specifically, several human rights groups are organizing a global drive to demand the Biden Administration pardon me both because it is the just thing to do and to comply with the United Nations decision ordering my immediate and unconditional release. You will be hearing more about this in the coming days. We also need funds to continue to build a legal infrastructure needed to take on new and similar cases to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable and ultimately to save our planet.

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Donate today to help Steven and the Amazon communities continue their fight for freedom and to hold Chevron accountable for its “Chernobyl” ecological disaster

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first they came for Julian Assange, then they came for Steven Donziger…

Update:

Chris Hedges and Joe Lauria, Editor-in-Chief of Consortium News both followed this week’s extradition hearing for Julian Assange via video link. On Saturday 30th, with the ruling from the proceedings still pending, they discussed the case on Chris Hedge’s RT show On Contact:

On the same day, Afshin Rattansi spoke with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, about the trial and the treatment of Julian Assange. They discuss Melzer’s assessment that Julian Assange has been psychologically tortured by UK authorities; why it has become harder for the UK courts to refuse the US extradition request; the parallels between the video of the murder of George Floyd and Julian Assange’s revelations; and what Julian Assange’s persecution means for the average citizen’s rights:

The original article begins below.

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“If they can do it to anyone, they can do it to us,” Marianne Williamson recalls her father warning. As Julian Assange faced his extradition hearing and Steven Donziger lost his appeal and had to report to prison, Marianne Williamson spoke with independent journalist Katie Halper about the “viciousness of the system”.  She reminds us that this anyone who takes on corporate and state power will be gone after by corporations and state institutions or a combination, which is why we need to stand up and speak out.

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The last week was a terrible week for justice.

After two and a half years of detention inside HMP Belmarsh maximum security prison, Julian Assange, who appears to be seriously ill, is facing extradition to America where he is expected to receive a 175 year sentence; guilty of the grave crime of practising journalism. As Chris Hedges writes:

Assange’s “crime” is that he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians.

He exposed the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 and 89, at Guantánamo.

He exposed that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered US diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

He exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime.

He exposed that George W. Bush, Barack Obama and General David Petraeus prosecuted a war in Iraq that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal war of aggression, a war crime, which authorized hundreds of targeted assassinations, including those of US citizens in Yemen.

He exposed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians.

He exposed that Goldman Sachs paid Hillary Clinton $657,000 to give talks, a sum so large it can only be considered a bribe, and that she privately assured corporate leaders she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform.

He exposed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party.

He exposed how the hacking tools used by the CIA and the National Security Agency permits the wholesale government surveillance of our televisions, computers, smartphones and anti-virus software, allowing the government to record and store our conversations, images and private text messages, even from encrypted apps.

He exposed the truth. He exposed it over and over and over until there was no question of the endemic illegality, corruption and mendacity that defines the global ruling elite. And for these truths alone he is guilty.

Click here to read Chris Hedges full article entitled “The Most Important Battle for Press Freedom in Our Time” published by Sheerpost on Thursday 28th Oct.

This week Julian Assange was back in court for the final decision on his extradition hearing. In response the stenographers of power with feet tucked comfortably under their desks, politely sat back and said absolutely nothing.

This was the home page on the BBC website late on October 27th (following the first day of Assange’s hearing):

BBC news home page oct 27 2021

And this is the BBC politics page:

BBC news politics page Oct 27 2021

There was also no mention at all on the BBC world events page, although Assange does finally manage to grab a column inch on their UK page:

BBC news UK page Oct 27

On the second and last day of the hearing, BBC News did at least manage to produce a brief résumé of the case (embedded below) which is truly a masterpiece in how to mislead an audience by means of clever changes in tone and a disconnected series of half-truths:

Lies of omission abound. So although it reminds us that Assange had originally skipped bail telling the world his extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations (charges were later dropped) would inevitably result in his deportation to America, the report entirely fails to then put two and two together. Clearly Assange had been telling the truth all along and wasn’t making excuses.

Still more negligent is the BBC’s abject failure to mention how a de facto regime change in Ecuador first enabled the British to arrest him inside the embassy; or that private meetings with his lawyers were illegally bugged; or how the central allegations against him that led to charges of hacking and espionage are discredited by the dodgy witness who made them; or even the truly staggering revelations that the CIA actually formed plans to kidnap and assassinate Assange in London.

Nonetheless Channel 4 News still managed to outdo the BBC and on Wednesday failed to provide any mention whatsoever of Assange’s trial on any of its pages – here’s a glimpse of their main UK page:

Channel 4 news UK page Oct 27 2021

And here is a screenshot of Channel 4 NewsYoutube channel showing uploads for the entire week – stories that cover Ethiopia, Welsh ambulances, COP26, Frances Haugen and Facebook, Rishi Sunak’s budget, UK police abuse, Nigerian bronzes “looted” by British Museum, Sudan, the Met Police… but once again, no mention at all of Julian Assange:

Channel 4 news Youtube channel Oct 28 2021

Meanwhile, the Guardian, which once worked extremely closely with Assange, supplied their readership with a small offering on what is undoubtedly the trial of the century:

Guardian home page Oct 27 2021

Coincidentally, on the very same day that Julian Assange was fighting for justice and hoping to avoid extradition and the hell of an American jail, the environmental lawyer Steven Donziger whose case I have detailed here had his own appeal rejected by a court in New York and faced imprisonment too. Once again, none of the mainstream outlets either in the UK and America has devoted any attention to this story.

Instead, the Guardian environmental page looked like this:

Guardian environment page Oct 27 2021

And if you had typed Steven Donziger into Google this is all you would see – reports from The Nation and Democracy Now! but no coverage whatsoever by any newspapers or major TV channels in America or Europe:

Google main page for Steven Donziger Oct 27 2021

Here is one of the few post-judgement reports on Donziger’s imprisonment that I can find uploaded on Youtube:

To loosely paraphrase Martin Niemöller’s famous entreaty once more: first they came for the journalists, next they came for the lawyers…

So the last week has been a terrible week for Julian Assange and Steven Donziger, and more generally a terrible week for freedom and democracy.

So far, it has been a terrible week for all of us full stop.

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Additional:

Outside the High Court on day two, Julian Assange’s partner Stella Moris, Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, and Jeremy Corbyn arrive to speak to the crowd of protesters and with RT journalists:

Awaiting the decision on Julian Assange’s extradition at the end of the two-day hearing, on Thursday evening [Oct 28th] Roger Waters, shared his thoughts in an interview with RT:

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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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Free Donziger: update and final call for support before sentencing on Oct 1st

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.

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

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

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Days ago my lawyers Rob Kuby and Marty Garbus filed a powerful petition before Judge Preska giving all the compelling reasons why I should be freed at sentencing on October 1.

To be clear, no lawyer EVER in the United States has been sentenced to prison for the crime of misdemeanor contempt. Yet Chevron is doing everything in its power to weaponize the legal system against me and convince Judge Preska of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society to make me the first.

Here is a preview of the letter:

Steven Donziger letter Sept 2021

You can read the full letter here.

October 1 is just around the corner where I could be sentenced to jail after already spending 787 days in home confinement, eight times longer than the longest sentence ever given to a lawyer convicted of my supposed crime. But this is all a part of Chevron’s demonic plan to silence me and the affected communities in Ecuador who won the historic pollution judgment.

Chevron is now using me as a foil to distract from the plight of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador who are suffering massive health problems because of the company’s planet and people-destroying practices. I am far from the only person who was involved in the pollution judgment against Chevron, but I am the most convenient target to try to scare future environmental lawyers from seeking accountability for the industry’s destructive operational practices. If I didn’t exist, Chevron probably would have invented me.

To reiterate, no lawyer ever has been sentenced to prison for the misdemeanor crime of contempt. We must fight back to make sure that I am not the first. We only have a few days left before my sentencing. Please donate today to help fund my defense and continue this critical battle against Chevron.

Thank you so much,

Steven

P.S. Reminder: If you are in the New York area, please come on Oct. 1 to the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan to show your support. Click here for more information.

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‘Amazon Chernobyl’ lawyer Steven Donziger who won huge damages against Chevron is now facing the ‘first corporate prosecution in America’

The disaster has been dubbed the “Amazon Chernobyl”, which is actually misleading since it implies that an accident happened, when in fact there was no accident. For almost three decades, the oil company Texaco – acquired by Chevron in 2001 – was responsible instead for deliberately dumping over 30 billion gallons of toxic waste and crude oil into the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

The system of oil extraction they had designed had, as its fundamental feature, the systematic discharge on a daily basis of millions of gallons of cancer-causing toxic waste; poison that was dumped into rivers and streams that the local communities relied on both for drinking water and for fish, a staple food. As a consequence and over a period of decades, a great many have died of cancer, and continue to die. There has also been a spike in birth defects. To this day, there are still a thousand open-air toxic waste pits that Chevron built to run their cancer-causing effluent into the Amazon’s rivers and streams.

The impact on local communities has been absolutely devastating:

From 1964 to 1992 Texaco, the company acquired by Chevron with all its liabilities, polluted a 1700 square mile swath of pristine rainforest. In its lust for profits, the company cut corners and dumped at least 19 billion gallons of toxic water into the environment. It discharged 17 million gallons of crude into unlined pits, some as deep as 30 feet, on the forest floor. There is no telling how many species succumbed to the horrors of such unbridled greed.

But this is also a story of environmental racism. For decades, Indigenous people of this region were told that the oil was no threat to them. On the contrary, many of them were told that it had medicinal value and contained “vitamins.” Thousands of people used that water. They drank it, cooked with it, bathed in it, oblivious to the danger. After seeing a spike in birth defects and cancers, that danger became increasingly clear. Unable to relocate because of crushing, imposed poverty, they are forced to live in this human-made disaster area, even though it is slowly killing them.

From an article entitled The Amazon Chernobyl is a Warning for Us All written by Kenn Orphan, published in Counterpunch on March 19th.

Here is the complete version of Abby Martin’s three-part series covering Chevron’s disaster in Ecuador, on teleSUR’s ‘The Empire Files’:

Steven Donziger was the lead US attorney in a class action for the indigenous people of Ecuador that began in 1993 shortly after the company left. Nearly two decades on, in February 2011 – almost half a century after Texaco began their criminal operations – an Ecuadorian court issued a historic ruling ordering Chevron-Texaco to pay close to 10 billion dollars compensation. Unsurprisingly, Chevron considered the ruling illegitimate and then in retaliation moved all of their assets out of Ecuador. To date the Ecuadorian plaintiffs have never received any compensation from Chevron.

Shortly after the judgement, Chevron-Texaco instead filed a civil racketeering suit in New York City against Donziger, and this is where the plot further thickens. The judge assigned to the case was US District Judge Lewis Kaplan and in 2014 he also ruled that the judgement in Ecuador was invalid, claiming Donziger had achieved the result through “fraud, bribery and corruption”:

For some, call them criminal justice ingenues, it may be hard to believe this is happening in the United States, that our famed judiciary has sunk this low. But in the U.S., a judge acts as prosecutor and jury on behalf of a giant oil company, Chevron, as it destroys the life and career of human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. His crime? Daring to win a judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court. For those less enchanted with the U.S. justice system, this is no surprise. But there it is. This judicial travesty is occurring in New York state. And the Chevron friendly judges – first Lewis A. Kaplan and his hand-picked appointee judge Loretta Preska, and now the U.S. court of appeals for the second circuit in a March opinion – keep ruling for the company, as they cage Donziger with house arrest, 600 days so far and counting.

The New York federal prosecutor declined to prosecute this case which is based, Donziger says, on lies, so in an astonishing move, Kaplan appointed Chevron’s attorneys. There will be no jury. Judge Preska will doubtless find Donziger guilty – of a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 90 days – though he’s already been under house arrest for over 600 days. The message to the legal community is clear: don’t mess with a fossil fuel company, because if you do, they will find a judge who favors the company and they will destroy you.

From an article entitled The Judicial Persecution of Steven Donziger written by Eve Ottenberg published in Counterpunch on April 9th.

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On March 1st Steven Donziger was interviewed by Ross Ashcroft for RT’s Renegade Inc. Doniziger told him:

“In a nutshell, we won the case big – there’s about a ten billion dollar judgement. Which by the way, that might sound like a lot [but] it’s a modest number compared to the magnitude of the damages. It’s a fraction for example of what British Petroleum has paid for its Deep Water Horizon disaster in the United States, but in any event it’s a sizable number.

“And then Chevron sued me back in US courts where I live here in New York. They named as defendants all the community leaders, other lawyers, scientific consultants and they ran what was essentially a show trial without a jury, presided over by a judge who was a former tobacco industry lawyer, who would not look at any of the evidence from the Ecuador case – would not look at the voluminous scientific evidence that backed the judgment in Ecuador…

“And he found based on a paid witness – Chevron paid a witness $2 million – that I orchestrated the bribery of the trial judge in Ecuador which is something that is completely false. It’s been rejected by 29 different appellate judges in Ecuador and Canada who’ve looked at it. But it was used to attack me and to try to block enforcement of the judgement against Chevron’s assets. It was part of that process.” [from 5:40 mins]

The full interview is embedded below:

In 2020, Donziger was disbarred in New York, but not in the District of Columbia where he is also a bar member. He totally denies all of the allegations and has appealed the verdict, considering the attack on his law licence to be politically motivated in retaliation for his successful human rights work in Ecuador.

As Donziger explains on his own campaign website:

Chevron recently orchestrated my criminal contempt prosecution and detention in New York by one of the company’s private law firms, Seward & Kissel. This happened after I appealed a shocking and unprecedented order from trial judge Lewis A. Kaplan — a former tobacco industry lawyer — that I turn over my computer and phone for review by Chevron lawyers. This order violated the most basic sanctity of the attorney-client privilege, potentially placing my vulnerable clients at severe risk of grave bodily harm or even death. As my appeal of this order was pending, Judge Kaplan charged me with criminal contempt. The federal prosecutor in Manhattan rejected the case, prompting Kaplan to appoint the Chevron law firm Seward & Kissel to “prosecute” me. The Seward firm failed to disclose until seven months into the case that Chevron is a private client — a flagrant conflict of interest. The Seward law firm has kept me under house arrest without trial for 19 months while the pandemic has caused numerous delays of my trial.

Donziger remains under house arrest in his apartment in New York. His trial has been postponed several times but was rescheduled for May 10th:

Steven Donziger is on trial in Manhattan federal court for failing to turn over his computer, phones and other electronic devices and refusing court orders to surrender his passport in the civil case brought by Chevron.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska is presiding over the case with no jury.

In an opening statement, prosecuting attorney Rita Glavin said that Donziger had consciously chosen to disobey court orders to turn over his devices and documents.

“Choices have consequences,” she said.

From a Reuters report released the same day.

On May 26th, ‘The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté invited Steven Donziger to speak on his two years of house arrest in a Kafkaesque prosecution engineered by one of the world’s top oil giants:

On Saturday [June 12th], Steven Donziger also spoke to comedian and activist Jimmy Dore about how he became the first corporate prosecution in America (and hopefully the last):

Steven Donziger is currently the only person locked up pre-trial on a misdemeanour in the whole of America. So far, he has already spent 675 days under house arrest with an ankle bracelet which far exceeds the maximum sentence of 180 days which he could receive if convicted.

As he writes:

For all intents and purposes, I am the only person in American history being prosecuted by a private oil company. This is frightening for me and my family, but it also represents a grave threat to the right of Free Speech and civil society everywhere.

Meanwhile his case receives next to no coverage in the mainstream media.

To support Steven Donziger you can visit his official “Free Donziger” website here:

https://www.donzigerdefense.com/

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Filed under campaigns & events, Ecuador, USA