Anti-fossil-fuel activist Tim DeChristopher was released from prison yesterday. On July 26, 2011 he was given a 2-year sentence for derailing a Bush Administration oil auction — JR.
By Laural Whitney via DeSmogBlog
Tim DeChristopher created quite a ripple in the activist community when he tried to buy millions of dollars of land in December of 2008 in order to stop the oil and gas industry from snatching it up at an illegitimate auction put on by the outgoing Bush administration. While the incoming Obama administration cancelled the auction, Tim was caught in the fallout, while the rest of the auctioneers presumably roam free.
He was slapped with two federal felony charges – one for making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.
Tim’s trial was pushed back 6 times over two years and was fraught with maddening plot twists. The judge refused to let Tim use the Necessity Defense or let the jury know crucial facts, including that the auction was illegal. Tim was also prohibited from testifying on how he acted on moral convictions relating to climate change.
His prison term was no less eventful. During March of last year, Tim was thrown in isolated confinement for two and a half weeks after writing correspondence that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) deemed potentially harmful because it contained the word “threat.” It turned out he was only “threatening” to return a potential legal fund donation from a company whose ethics weren’t aligned with his own.
Rumors went around that an unnamed Congressman had put in the order, but investigations never figured out if it was true.
Tim was eventually returned to the general population after a massive effort by supporters demanded the prison to put him back. Some speculated the move was a tactic by the BOP to further restrict his communication with the outside world.
It’s not the first (nor the last) time an activist has been censured for political speech. Just a few weeks ago, former ELF participant, Daniel McGowan, was taken back into custody after penning a Huffington Post article about documents shedding light on his incarceration in a Communication Management Unit (CMU).
The government attempting to suppress individuals’ freedom of speech is often a constant thread when activists get put on trial and has been especially prevalent during Tim’s trial, sentencing, and time in prison.
Legal documents from Tim’s sentencing indicate that the main reason for Tim receiving jail time was not necessarily because his crime was heinous, but rather because of what he said after his conviction. The government’s prosecutors proposed 7 years incarceration in order to “be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior.”
Judge Dee Benson, the Utah judge presiding over the case, stated during the sentencing hearing that Tim may not have received any time if he hadn’t roused the crowd on the steps of the courthouse after being issued a guilty verdict. Or if he hadn’t further continued to address audiences around the country afterward about total system change, overthrowing the fossil fuel industry, and creating an economy that works better for everyone instead of protecting the interests of a small percentage of ultra wealthy.