Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Demonstrators rally in support of Steven Donziger

Climate activists gathered in Manhattan to support human rights attorney Steven Donziger on Park Avenue in Manhattan of New York City, United States on June 10, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Donziger Slams Criminal Contempt Ruling as 'Message of Intimidation' to Human Rights Lawyers

"The United States has now become one of those countries where environmental advocates are attacked, put in jail, or even murdered for doing their jobs successfully."

Jake Johnson

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger said Monday that he is a victim of an "obvious travesty of justice" and vowed to appeal after a judge found him guilty on six counts of criminal contempt of court.

 "The decision marks a sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy, and for our planet."
—Steven Donziger

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska marks the latest development in a case that stems from Donziger's role in securing a historic, multibillion-dollar settlement against Chevron over the oil giant's devastating pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Chevron has not paid any of the 2011 settlement, which the corporation claims was improperly obtained.

While the Ecuadorian Supreme Court upheld the original settlement, Chevron has relentlessly pushed its fraud claims in U.S. court. In 2014, a federal judge with connections to Chevron ruled—based on testimony from a witness who has since admitted to lying—that Donziger was guilty of a "pattern of racketeering activity," a charge he has denied.

Donziger was then ordered to turn over his cell phone and computer to Chevron. When he appealed on the grounds that the devices contained client information, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan hit the attorney with criminal contempt charges that ultimately landed him under house arrest, where he has remained for more than 700 days.

In a statement (pdf) Monday, Donziger characterized Preska's ruling as "the latest attempt by Chevron and its judicial allies to criminalize me and to send a message of intimidation to legitimate human rights lawyers who successfully challenge the major polluters of the fossil fuel industry."

"The decision marks a sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy, and for our planet," Donziger added. "The United States has now become one of those countries where environmental advocates are attacked, put in jail, or even murdered for doing their jobs successfully."

Donziger went on to describe Preska's decision as "the result of a patently unfair trial process that she and Judge Kaplan structured to undermine my defense and to make me appear guilty."

In 2019, after the Southern District of New York declined to take up the case against Donziger, Kaplan appointed a Chevron-connected private law firm to pursue the prosecution. Kaplan then handpicked Preska—previously a member of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society—to preside over the case.

In his statement Monday, Donziger said Preska "let Chevron's own lawyers testify" against him "while protecting them from having to disclose how much Chevron paid them."

"Judge Preska already has detained me in my home for 720 days when the longest sentence ever given for my supposed 'crime' is 90 days of home confinement," Donziger said. "We have a strong appeal and I look forward to the opportunity to brief the appellate court on this obvious travesty of justice. I also repeat my call for Judge Preska to release me immediately so I can return to my human rights work and help those in Ecuador who are suffering and dying because of Chevron's dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing toxic waste into the Amazon."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Hundreds of Thousands Take to Streets Worldwide for 'Uproot the System' Climate Strikes

"The climate crisis has not disappeared," said Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. "It's the opposite—it's even more urgent now than it was before."

Jake Johnson ·


African Leaders Condemn Vaccine Apartheid as an 'Indictment on Humanity'

"We tend to forget that no one is safe until everyone is safe."

Jake Johnson ·


As Other States Try to Copy Texas, SCOTUS Asked to Find Abortion Ban Unconstitutional

The request from healthcare providers comes after a Florida Republican filed a copycat bill and advocacy groups called on Congress to affirm the right to abortion nationwide.

Jessica Corbett ·


As Bids to Slash Pentagon Budget Fail, US Military Spending Slammed as 'Height of Absurdity'

"Spending $780 billion on weapons and war while our communities starve, while the climate crisis worsens, while a pandemic that has killed millions and affected countless more rages on, is a national shame."

Brett Wilkins ·


'This Is Big': House Passes Amendment to Cut US Complicity in Saudi Bombing of Yemen

The vote, said Rep. Ro Khanna, "sent a clear message to the Saudis: end the bombing in Yemen and lift the blockade."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo