After decades of legal battles with Chevron, Steven Donziger has been convicted of six counts of criminal contempt of court by Judge Loretta Preska. Preska was appointed to the case by Judge Lewis Kaplan who decided an infamous RICO case in Chevron’s favor in 2014 and who held Donziger in civil contempt of court for refusing to surrender his confidential information, including computers and cellphones, to the court in order to turn over to his legal adversary, Chevron. This trial has been a harrowing reminder of the power that corporations wield over the U.S. legal system and their targets—increasingly public interest lawyers and NGO employees.
When Chevron, operating under its Texaco brand, deliberately polluted the Ecuadorian Amazon by dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil drilling water into the environment over the course of decades, human rights lawyer Donziger, along with several Ecuadorian lawyers, took the corporation to court for damages and reparations. After Chevron lost, it turned to a vicious legal retaliation effort which has led to this recent conviction. We invite you to read more about the significance of the case itself in a blog post by Paul Paz y Miño from Amazon Watch. Ultimately, Donziger’s fate is emblematic of the larger trend of silencing activists across the world, many of whom are fighting for the mitigation and reversal measures we need to combat the global climate crisis exacerbated by multinational fossil fuel profiteers like Chevron, Enbridge, and Exxon-Mobil.
The Protect the Protest task force is deeply committed to defending the rights of environmental and social justice dissenters everywhere. Donziger is a privileged white attorney who had a high profile case, garnering support from 68 Nobel Laureates, multiple celebrities and public figures, many international human rights and environmental organizations, and members of Congress like Cori Bush, Jim McGovern, Jamie Raskin, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His legal battle and sentencing alone are horrendous events. But put in context, Donziger’s case shows us the extent to which the US District Court for the Southern District of New York is structured to protect the interests of corporations.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are a bullying tactic used by corporations to silence activists and deter their allies. This database from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre paints a terrifying picture of the widespread use of this tactic. As tempting as it may be to say that Donziger’s case is uniquely horrific, he is not alone in being targeted for his human rights work.
Communities rallying together for equity and justice are often marginalized groups. People who are low income, queer, undocumented, disabled, or persons of color are even less likely to have a positive outcome in the legal system. The Protect the Protest task force is concerned about the future of dissent and the dangerous message that Chevron is not only sending to its would-be critics—but also to its fellow corporate bullies. We hope you’ll join us in solidarity with the brave individuals who risk their lives and dignity to improve the world.
If you’re at risk of being SLAPPed, you can contact us on our website form. For more stories of the activists who have faced this tactic, please read and share our storytelling series.