On the morning of June 22 2011, Spanish state security forces entered the homes of 12 activists from different parts of the Spanish state (Madrid, Asturias, Euskadi and Galicia). Many of the activists arrested held positions of responsibility within the organisations Equanimal and Igualdad Animal such as heads and spokespersons. Others have actively worked in the past with these organisations in defence of animals.
The house raids formed part of what the state calls “antiterrorist operations”, and involved sealing off the adjacent streets, and entering heavily armed and wearing balaclavas into the private homes of some of the activists and even into the homes of the mothers of two of them. This all took place in order to perform house searches of several hours in length during which dozens of computers, hard disks and cameras were seized, along with a wide range of material used daily in their work on behalf of animals.
Following the raids, the activists were taken in police vans to Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, and A Coruña, where they spent three days incommunicado in police station cells, and on hunger strikes as a protest against their arrests.
After the time spent in the police station, the eleven activists (the twelfth was abroad at the time but later went to the police station voluntarily) were taken before the magistrate for their first hearing. Three were remanded in custody, while the rest were charged and released on bail.
On Wednesday 13 July 2011, during the hearing in the magistrate’s court of Santiago de Compostela, the three activists held on remand in custody won their appeal and were placed on bail. After 22 days in prison, Olaia, Eneko and Eladio are now on bail — although they have also been charged like the nine remaining activists.
What have the activists been accused of?
What we know at present is that they have been charged with various offences.
Some of the offences are related to the mass release of minks, which the activists who have been charged do not have any connection with.
Trespassing, Breaking and entering, and Revelation of secrets
The activists have also been accused of trespassing, breaking and entering, and the revelation of secrets.
The activists from the organisations Igualdad Animal and Equanimal have set foot inside various farms and other centres of animal exploitation without obtaining permission for this – but without inflicting any property damage – with the aim of recording what goes on in these centres of animal exploitation for the public interest.
They have also rescued a symbolic number of animals (which they have taken to secure homes) with uncovered faces, in actions that are known in the animal rights movement as Open Rescues.* The reason for these actions is to allow the public to find out about the terrible reality facing animals in these places. If these actions had not been carried out, the situation of these animals would still remain hidden.
The activists from Equanimal and Igualdad Animal have always carried out their activism with uncovered faces and without hiding their identities. In fact, both organisations have invited journalists to accompany them in their work, which later has obtained wide-ranging media coverage, at both national and international level.
Public Disorder Offences
Some activists have been charged with public disorder. Activists from both organisations carry out actions that would be defined as civil disobedience. That is to say actions – always non-violent – in which people are willing to publicly disobey unjust laws, and assume responsibility for the possible punishments that this could incur.
Some of the actions of civil disobedience by the organisations , are, amongst others:
- Peaceful sabotage of hunts, with the intention of avoiding the deaths of animals during hunting tournaments.
- Interrupting fashion catwalks and bullfighting arenas carrying paper banners.
- Activists performing banner drops outside bullrings and other buildings.
The aim of these actions is to transmit a message to society that non-human animals must be taken into account due to the fact that, like humans, they also suffer and have an equal interest in their lives.
In addition to these actions, Igualdad Animal and Equanimal, who focus their work on public awareness-raising, use other tools in order to generate social debate with regard to our relationship with animals. Some of these are:
- Street information stalls
- Attention-grabbing demonstrations to attract media attention
“Ecoterrorism”: a term invented with the intention of criminalising the movement
Not only the media but the judge instructing the case himself, José Antonio Vázquez Tain, have accused the activists of practising “ecoterrorism”. This is a new term lacking any type of juridical validity, whose intent is to criminalise the animal rights movement.
The term has been invented with the unique aim of encompassing any action whatsoever that is carried out in the defence of animals, and delegitimising the practice socially.
This is quite clearly absurd, and a attempt to criminalise a movement that is emerging with greater strength all the time – one that is increasingly holding to account those who profit from animal exploitation.
Persecution of the movement already exists internationally:
a) The case of SHAC (an international group working to close down the laboratories of Huntingdon Life Sciences), where certain activists have spent up to 7 years in prison for the maintenance of a website.
b) The case of Austria. After two years of hearings, various activists belonging to similar organisations to Igualdad Animal and Equanimal were cleared of all charges, after being accused of committing all types of offences with which they had no connection, in a clear set-up initiated by the fur and other animal exploitation lobbies.
Why it is necessary to defend the legitimacy of animal rights activism
The media in turn and in an almost widespread fashion, and in spite of having no evidence whatsoever, violated the rights of the accused, ignoring the presumption of innocence, accusing them of offences with which they have no connection and lacking any evidence to back their claims.
Not only that, some media sources spread egregious lies by stating that these organisations show how to construct explosive devices on their website. An extremely grave accusation that is totally false.
Given the gross falsity of the accusations, it appears that these arrests correspond to an interest in criminalising the animal rights movement, an interest that is shared by the sectors dedicated to animal exploitation (for example the fur industry lobby).
We need to defend, in the face of this persecution, the clear legitimacy of the activism carried out by Equanimal and Igualdad Animal. These organisations fulfill a key role in bringing to light the reality suffered by animals in our society, a task that within the Spanish state, only they are fulfilling. That is why, it is in the general public’s interest to reject the attempts to delegitimise and criminalise this movement, which is a sign of what may occur when the work of a person or organisation damages the interests of powerful and influential industries, as in the case of the fur industry in Spain.