Jul 07, 2021
On the 700th day of Steven Donziger's house arrest, supporters of the human rights attorney gathered outside his New York City apartment on Tuesday night to demand his release and to mourn the 2,000 residents of the Amazon rainforest who have died as a result of carcinogenic fossil fuel pollution.
Donziger led the legal team, which represented more than 30,000 Indigenous people and farmworkers harmed by over three decades of oil drilling in Ecuador, that won a $9.5 billion judgement against Chevron in 2013 for deliberately dumping more than 16 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and other hazardous pollutants in the delicate Amazonian ecosystem--resulting in a "rainforest Chernobyl" that has caused widespread suffering throughout the local population.
In the wake of that historic victory, the oil giant relentlessly demonized and prosecuted Donziger, turning him into a "corporate political prisoner," as his allies describe him. As a result of Chevron's retaliation, the human rights attorney has endured almost two years of house arrest on a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum sentence of six months.
"If we do not now stop corporations like Chevron from weaponizing the law, the rights of all earth defenders will be in jeopardy," said Donziger, who spoke for a few minutes at the rally.
"Please let's remember the people of Ecuador," the human rights attorney stressed in his remarks. "I was part of an international legal team that won a $9.5 billion judgement against Chevron on behalf of Indigenous peoples and farmer communities who started with no money."
"Texaco and Chevron thought they couldn't do this kind of thing," Donziger continued. "They counted on people not being able to fight back."
"And we figured out a way through grit and struggle and tenacity and the support of so many people and of course the unbelievable leadership at the community level in Ecuador to do a lawsuit, to play by the rules, to hold them accountable," he added, "for the worst environmental disaster in the world ever created by an oil company."
\u201c.@SDonziger comes out of apartment on DAY 700 of his house arrest to join protesters including @SusanSarandon @rogerwaters #FreeStevenDonziger\u201d— Status Coup News (@Status Coup News) 1625612350
Given that "this was an American company that went down to the Amazon and destroyed the lands of the Indigenous peoples," Donziger emphasized that it is the responsibility of people in the U.S. to hold Chevron accountable.
Donziger was joined by activist celebrities including Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters and actor Susan Sarandon, as well as New York City Council member Sandy Nurse and Amazon Shuar leader Lino Wampustrik and hundreds of additional supporters.
Tuesday night's rally for Donziger's freedom was followed by a vigil "to honor the 2,000 Ecuadorians who have died from Chevron's pollution."
\u201cBREAKING: Powerful vigil just ended at my apartment on 700th day of house arrest to honor the 2,000 Ecuadorians who have died from Chevron's pollution.\n\nPictured are Amazon leader Lino Wamputsrik, artivist Giada, actor @SusanSarandon, and rock legend @RogerWaters. So grateful.\u201d— Steven Donziger (@Steven Donziger) 1625619982
Donziger's imprisonment began shortly after U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron, held Donziger in contempt of court in July 2019 for refusing to turn over his computer and cell phone to the fossil fuel company, a move that would have disclosed privileged client information.
Although the 2013 ruling against Chevron was upheld by three Ecuadorian courts, the oil giant moved its operations out of the country to avoid paying for cleanup, alleged that the $9.5 billion settlement had been fraudulently obtained, and began what six House Democrats described in April as an "unjust legal assault" on Donziger.
Donziger has also received support from human rights organizations and nearly 70 Nobel Prize Laureates, including 1997 peace prize recipient Jody Williams, who argued in May that Donziger's ongoing detention and the criminal contempt case against him is a "gross miscarriage of justice" meant to discourage others from challenging corporations' human rights violations and environmental degradations.
While the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York chose not to prosecute Donziger's misdemeanor contempt of court charge, Kaplan hand-picked a right-wing colleague, Judge Loretta Preska, to hear the case.
Kaplan and Preska, previously a leader in the Chevron-funded Federalist Society, then selected Rita Glavin, an attorney at Seward & Kissel LLP, to act as a special prosecutor even though her law partner was a former member of Chevron's board of directors and Chevron had been one of the firm's clients.
Unsurprisingly, Donziger described his May 10 trial as a "charade." Despite the fact that he has already been confined to his home for nearly 24 months, including over 20 months prior to his trial, Donziger faces six months in prison if convicted.
The Intercept noted earlier this year that "no attorney without a criminal record in the federal court system has ever before been detained pretrial for a misdemeanor offense."
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