For Immediate Release
Demand Progress Renews Calls for Firing of Prosecutors in Aaron Swartz Case
WASHINGTON - In light of information about prosecutors' motives that was disclosed in MIT's recent report (page 68) on the prosecution of activist Aaron Swartz, Demand Progress has renewed its calls for the firing of United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz and Assistant United States Attorney Stephen Heymann.
MIT's report makes it clear that the prosecutors were motivated by anger at Swartz for publicly asserting his innocence.
Demand Progress also supported House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's new demands that Attorney General Eric Holder brief his committee on the prosecution.
According to the report, Heymann indicated that he took a more aggressive posture against Swartz because Swartz and Demand Progress circulated an online petition calling for support for Swartz.
According to the MIT report:
The prosecutor said that the straw that broke the camel’s back was that when he indicted the case, and allowed Swartz to come to the courthouse as opposed to being arrested, Swartz used the time to post a “wild Internet campaign” in an effort to drum up support. This was a “foolish” move that moved the case “from a human one-on-one level to an institutional level.”
Swartz committed suicide in January while under indictment for allegedly using MIT's computer network to download too many academic articles from the online catalogue JSTOR. Swartz's family, colleagues, attorneys, and other supporters have argued that the charges were heavy handed -- entailing a maximal penalty of more than 40 years in prison -- that prosecutors withheld key evidence from the defense.
In a letter to Holder this week, Issa wrote, "The implication that the Department ratcheted up the prosecution by moving the case to 'an institutional level' after it discovered the petition by Demand Progress suggests that the Department acted in a retaliatory manner and that it bases its charging decisions on externalities such as an Internet campaign."
"The suggestions that prosecutors did in fact seek to make an example out of Aaron Swartz because Demand Progress exercised its First Amendment rights in publicly supporting him raises new questions about the Department's handling of the case," Issa's letter continued.
View the petition demanding the firing of Ortiz.
View the petition on the whitehouse.gov demanding the firing of Heymann.
Both petitions reached the threshold that to generate a response -- six months ago. Yet the White House has remained silent on the matter.
According to Demand Progress executive director David Segal, "It is outrageous that prosecutors would deem a defendant's assertion of innocence -- the innocence which is supposedly presumed in the American judicial system -- as cause to bring their hammers down even harder. Carmen Ortiz leads an office run amok, plagued by vindictive, opportunistic prosecutors. It's time for her and Steve Heymann to go."
Demand Progress works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, lobbying, and elections in the United States.