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Human rights, press freedom groups oppose training center protesters’ terrorism charges

A statue symbolizing Justice. (Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm/Unsplash.)

By John Ruch

Major human rights and press freedom groups have signed onto a letter calling for the dismissal of domestic terrorism charges against protesters of Atlanta’s public safety training center.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) joined 63 other signers of the March 3 letter, which called the charges attempts to chill free speech.

The letter says that Georgia’s domestic terrorism law is vague and overbroad and that authorities are abusing it as an intimidation tactic for minor, civil-disobedience offenses. It also cites the overt attempt by Atlanta Police Department Assistant Chief Carven Tyus to spread a political narrative that any non-local protester is a domestic terrorist, as first revealed in a SaportaReport story cited in the letter.

“From the Boston Tea Party to the civil rights movement, Americans have long drawn on civil disobedience tactics akin to the occupation of the Atlanta forest by the Stop Cop City protesters,” the letter says in part. “…These politicized charges are a clear attempt to silence dissent by smearing an activist movement as terrorism-prone. Inappropriately pursuing domestic terrorism charges is an affront to the civil liberties the First Amendment protects, and could harm civil liberties and civic space.”

The New York-based HRW is known for producing reports on human rights abuses and in 1997 was part of a coalition that won the Nobel Peace Prize for a campaign against the use of landmines. London-based AI is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner for its human rights activism.

The New York-based FPF helps to maintain the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a national database of free-press infringements. Earlier this year, FPF added to the database the arrest or detention of two journalists covering the training center protests.

Shortly after the letter’s issuance on March 6, 23 more people were charged with domestic terrorism during a concert on adjacent land in an act protesters say was a guilt-by-association tactic after other people vandalized and burned equipment on the training center site in a mass assault. The concert was part of a “Week of Action” declared by the Defend the Atlanta Forest protest movement, which also included protests, rallies and other events.

Among those arrested was an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) who was acting as a legal observer with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a left-wing group that often provides such monitoring at protests. The NLG and some of its local chapters were among the letter’s signatories.

The Alabama-based SPLC – founded in 1971 with the late Atlanta Civil Rights activist Julian Bond as president – maintains a controversial database of groups it designates as “hate” activities. Its attorney’s arrest has sparked criticism from such right-wing commentators and activists as Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton that the SPLC might be a terror group and is aligned with “Antifa” and “communists.”

Other signatories to the letter included groups focused on climate change and police reform or abolition. Greenpeace USA is among them. So is the Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center, which has aided Defend the Atlanta Forest protesters in getting local legal advice on First Amendment issues. The letter was sent on the letterhead of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Defending Rights & Dissent.

The letter was addressed to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.



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