Published: Saturday 15 May 2004

On April 15, 2004 Miami, USA, District Judge Adalberto Jordan refused to throw out federal charges against Greenpeace for protesting a shipment of Amazon mahogany, setting up a trial that could test the limits of political dissent. The Justice Department had charged the environmental group under an obscure 19th-century law enacted to stop pimps from clambering aboard ships heading for port. The government has never successfully prosecuted an activist organization on criminal charges over protest methods.

The charges stem from a 2002 protest on the APL Jade more than three miles off Miami Beach. Two protesters jumped aboard the vessel while members in two rubber rafts zigzagged in front of the ship. The crew kept protesters from unfurling a banner reading, "President Bush, Stop Illegal Logging."

Six Greenpeace members subsequently settled criminal charges over the boarding, but a misdemeanor indictment charged the group with conspiracy and an illegal boarding under the 1872 law.

On April 16, 2004, Friends of the Earth and other environmentalist groups staged a mock-funeral with a 20-ft whale outside the London, uk, head office of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The protest was against a us $10 billion oil and gas project on Sakhalin Island in Russia's far east region the bank has been asked to back up. The Sakhalin II project, to be built by a consortium of which Shell is a major shareholder, will threaten the last extant population of the western pacific grey whale; it feeds on crustaceans on the sea bed, and four undersea pipelines planned as part of the project could put paid to that. Besides, 59 salmon-bearing streams and fishing grounds are threatened, a press release of the group noted.

Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, two tireless campaigners for victims of the Bhopal gas disaster, were awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize -- often referred to as the Nobel prize for environment -- and will share us $125,000. The women said they would use the money to set up their own award in India for fighting corporate crime. Other winners include Rudolf Amenga-Etego, who founded Ghana's National Coalition Against the Privatisation of Water, an attempt to halt a us $400 million project which would have meant water being sold at full market rates, a Colombian woman who has secured land rights for her country's black rural communities and a Georgian woman campaigning against the building of the world's largest oil pipeline.

The prize is awarded every year to six people, one each from Africa, Asia, Europe, Island Nations, North America and South/Central America.

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