SAN JOSE - Four animal rights activists indicted by a federal grand jury for their alleged roles in violent demonstrations at the homes of UC biomedical researchers pleaded not guilty today, then held a rally denouncing what they call an attack on free speech rights.
Joseph Buddenberg, Maryam Khajavi, Nathan Pope and Adriana Stumpo are being charged under the relatively new Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law aimed at terrorism against scientists and others involved in using animals in their research. The San Jose charges are believed to be the second case in the nation brought under AETA, approved by Congress to "prosecute animal rights extremists" with a tougher law that includes stiffer penalties.
At the rally, which occurred just outside the federal courthouse downtown, supporters waved signs that called the law - known as AETA - unconstitutional. Some signs dubbed the four defendants the "AETA 4."
Well-known civil rights lawyer Tony Serra, who is representing Khajavi, said his client and the other defendants are idealist kids whose free-speech rights are being curtailed. Punishing youth for dissenting leads to the downfall of a society, Serra said.
"We represent the voice of tomorrow," he said.
Authorities say the activists are linked to the alleged crimes through video surveillance footage and fliers seized by federal agents in which they pledged violence against the researchers for using animals in experiments.
Animal rights activists are accusing the Tehama County agriculture and sheriff's departments of not doing the job of enforcing animal regulations.
On Tuesday a group of five animal activists converged on the Tehama County Board of Supervisors to voice their allegations of rampant dog kennel code violations and puppy mills in the county.
"Give us locations where this is occurring and we will get to them," Sheriff Clay Parker said.
He explained to the activists and to the board that his department took over the enforcement division of the county's animal services
just two years ago and has been working understaffed since that time. "We have a staff of three and one of them has been serving in Iraq. That leaves us so short in covering the entire county that I have been out working code violation enforcement myself," he said.