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In response to radical animal rights protests UC-sponsored legislation aims to protect animal researchers from harassment.

By Nicole Teixeira
Senior Staff Writer Monday, Apr. 21, 2008

Will Parson/Guardian

Animal rights were a source of debate long before the UC system was formed, but over the last five years, actions taken by both sides have escalated, bringing the issue to a head with increasingly violent animal-rights protests and stringent new UC-sponsored legislation.

The first major victory for animal-rights groups in the recent past occurred in 2003. Protesters gathered outside UCSD's Basic Sciences Building on Feb. 19 to challenge a voluntary School of Medicine dog lab for freshmen. The lab used 24 privately bred dogs, valued at $576 each, for a half-day experiment involving vivisection and ending with the euthanization of the animals. Fifty out of 120 medical school students opted to skip the quarter's first lab, and the lab was canceled completely in August 2003.

Three years later, in 2006, UCLA began experiencing its first major violent protests, having been the site of many nonviolent marches in previous years.

According to an anonymous July 11 communique released by the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, the Animal Liberation Front placed a Molotov cocktail on UCLA researcher Lynn Fairbanks' doorstep on June 30 as retaliation for "breeding monkeys for painful addiction experiments." However, a statement released by the FBI did not confirm that Fairbanks was the target of the attack and said the incendiary device -- actually placed on the doorstep of Fairbanks' 70-year-old neighbor -- failed to ignite.

In February 2007, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Scripps Research Institute and UCSD formed the San Diego Research Ethics Consortium. As of December 2007, all four institutions have adopted a common ethics training requirement, offered through SDREC. Courses focus on the ethics of stem-cell research as well as other ethical issues such as social responsibility and the treatment of human and animal subjects.

The UCLA protests returned with full force on June 24, 2007. An incendiary device, along with one gallon of fuel, was found next to UCLA researcher Arthur Rosenbaum's vehicle. NAALPO press officer Jerry Vlasak said Rosenbaum "glues steel coils onto the eyes of primates," and a group calling itself the Animal Liberation Brigade claimed responsibility in a June 27 communique released by NAALPO.

According to Newsweek, Rosenbaum's wife received a package weeks later containing animal fur and razor blades from someone claiming to be with ALF, threatening, "What he does to animals, we will do to you."

ALF also claimed responsibility for flooding UCLA researcher Edythe London's Beverly Hills, Calif. home on Oct. 20. The group inserted a hosepipe into a broken window and reportedly caused more than $20,000 in water damage.

Two months later, on Dec. 5, the UCSD School of Medicine complex was evacuated for seven hours when former UCSD employee Richard Sills Jr. threatened to detonate multiple explosives unless all animals used in UCSD research facilities were released. The bomb threat, centered on a suspicious package found in the Leichtag Biomedical Research Building, was ultimately determined to be a hoax.

Then on Feb. 5, 2008, London was targeted again, this time with an incendiary device left at her home. Although the device did ignite and cause damage, no one is believed to have been present when the incident occurred.

UCLA responded to this latest attack by filing a lawsuit on Feb. 21 aimed at stopping the threats. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Gerald Rosenberg granted a temporary restraining order against the UCLA Primate Freedom Project, ALF, ALB and five individuals believed to affiliate with the groups. According to a UCLA press release, under the order, the defendants are prohibited from harassing UCLA personnel or coming within 50 feet of them during a demonstration. It also requires extremists to remove personal information about researchers from their Web sites.

"We're dealing with terrorist organizations and people who are knowingly involving themselves with these terrorist organizations," said John Hueston, a lawyer for UCLA, in a Feb. 27 Newsweek article.

Director of the UCLA Primate Freedom Project Jean Green told Newsweek she would comply with the restraining order but said, "We're not going to just lay down." Green has since removed the researchers' addresses from her Web site, but reportedly hinted to Newsweek that she may continue the fight through e-mail.

Three days later, on Feb. 24, six masked intruders attempted to force their way into a UC Santa Cruz researcher's residence and fled after a confrontation that involved a physical attack on the researcher's husband.

"An attempted home invasion by masked perpetrators is not free speech -- it is a criminal act that threatens, intimidates and stifles academic freedom," UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal said in a statement.

In March, UC Berkeley campus officials followed suit and said they were attempting to sue for a restraining order against informally organized activists who stage weekly demonstrations outside at least six Berkeley researchers' homes.

"Calling a person an animal abuser and a puppy killer is protected speech," said animal-rights attorney Christine Garcia, according to a March 5 article in the Daily Cal. "Constitutionally protected speech is not harassment."

Later that same month, the UC system announced it is seeking to expand its UCLA restraining order to a permanent systemwide injunction, protecting all 10 UC campuses from the defendants named in the temporary restraining order granted in February.

Currently, the UC system is sponsoring an extensive state assembly bill aimed at protecting its researchers from animal-rights groups. The bill -- the California Animal Enterprise Protection Act, Assembly Bill 2296 -- is authored by Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco) and was passed by a 9-0 vote in the state�s judiciary committee on April 17.

According to an analysis released by the judiciary committee, the bill prohibits posting private information, such as a home address, telephone number or picture, about any animal enterprise employee on the Internet. An "animal enterprise," as defined by the bill, would not only include nonprofit and academic organizations involved in animal research and testing but many commercial businesses engaged in analytical testing and product development.

Anyone who attempts to interfere with an animal enterprise with acts including, but not limited to, nonviolent intimidation and destroying property would be guilty of a misdemeanor. Depending on the act, offenders could face up to one year in a county jail and a fine of up to $25,000, with fines being increased for subsequent offenders.

The committee's analysis also said the bill "proposes, apparently in unprecedented fashion, that the employer of an alleged victim would have standing to sue [for damages and injunctive relief] even if the person actually aggrieved chooses not to sue."

The committee warned the definition of "animal enterprises" may be too general, setting a precedent for extending protections to controversial enterprises such as tobacco and oil companies.

Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have protested the bill, claiming it may prohibit the posting of accurate information on the Internet and carries criminal penalties for conduct related to public protest.

Vlasak expects both the restraining order and the legislation in progress will have no effect on the activity of underground organizations such as ALF.

"If someone's willing to risk 20 years of prison by -- burning a building used for animal torture, I don't think they're going to worry about a silly restraining order that UCLA cooks up," Vlasak said. "The same goes for AB 2296."

He attributed the steadily rising numbers of animal rights protests and attacks over the last five years to the ineffectiveness of peaceful protests.

"I think out of frustration of legal means, with passing laws, with peacefully protesting, with writing letters to congressmen -- all those sorts of things -- after seeing those techniques frustrated I think people have said 'Well, if this doesn't work, then -- we should try something different," Vlasak said. "And that's when I think groups like the ALF and other organizations step up to the plate and say, '' We're going to make sure that you're not going to ignore us.'"

Vlasak said that although ALF has a specific set of guidelines in place - allowing for property damage, the liberation of animals and economic sabotage - they denounce violence toward humans or animals.

However, he said, "Other organizations don't have those guidelines."

Vlasak also argued the UC system is mistakenly funding unnecessary research that could be used for legitimate forms of treatment.

"It's ridiculous UC continues to waste all this taxpayer money and inflict an unimaginable amount of suffering on animals when they could be doing the right thing and promoting health for human beings," he said.

However, UC President Robert C. Dynes argued otherwise in an April 10 letter written to Dave Jones, the chair of the assembly judiciary committee.

"Radiation therapy and other cancer treatments, the development of vaccines, organ transplantation and many mental health treatments have all resulted in part from work done on animals," Dynes said. "When such work is disrupted by the actions used by extreme animal-rights activists, the deleterious impact on important research can -- delay the development of greatly needed and potentially lifesaving therapies."

Dynes maintained the bill is not about limiting protestors' free speech, but keeping researchers and their families safe.

"This legislation is an important step toward ensuring that state prosecutors and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to prevent increasingly threatening and destructive tactics employed by extreme animal-rights activists without jeopardizing legitimate and lawful expressions of free speech," he said.

AB 2296 will be heard within the Assembly Appropriations Committee in the next few weeks.

Readers can contact Nicole Teixeira at nteixeir@ucsd.edu.


Primate Freedom Project, Unregistered

Primate Freedom Project has filed a federal lawsuit against the California Board of Regents in this matter. You can review the filed documents at http://primatefreedom.com/cabor.shtml

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