UC Backs Harsher Penalties for Animal Testing Protesters

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University of California officials are backing a state assembly bill proposing harsher punishments on animal rights activists who demonstrate against animal testing research.

Several officials held a teleconference yesterday to discuss the implications of the bill, which would make it illegal to post the address or phone number of animal researchers on the Internet.

The bill, slated for a vote in the Assembly Committee on Judiciary on Thursday, would also add criminal provisions to address "activities intended to interfere with animal enterprises and intimidate animal enterprise workers."

Assemblymember Gene Mullin,

D-South San Francisco, said he was asked by the university to introduce the legislation.

But Mullin acknowledged that the legislation needed to strike a balance between free speech and safety.

"We're not in the business of narrowing constitutional provisions," Mullin said. "We're trying to balance those protections, along with making sure that researchers are not subjected to dire consequences. Finding that balance is what we're all about at this point."

But some activists said the bill targets animal rights activists unlawfully.

Animal rights attorney and UC Berkeley alumna Christine Garcia said she recognizes that the government does have the right to restrict speech in some cases. But in this case, she said, free speech would be limited based on content rather than time, place, or manner-the only restrictions on speech that are deemed constitutional.

"You can't censor people," Garcia said. "They are not allowing information to be shared in the public forum of a Web site. It is really sad, especially since the forefathers of the UC system, UC Berkeley, was founded on and has such a rich tradition and history of free speech."

The activists, who are not part of any formal organization, stage regular demonstrations in front of the homes of UC professors who test on animals.

At least six UC Berkeley professors have been the targets of these demonstrations, with phrases like "animal killer" and "cat torturer" written in sidewalk chalk outside their homes.

Other UC campuses have seen similar incidents. In one, a UC Santa Cruz researcher's husband was injured after fighting off six masked protesters. A UCLA researcher stopped doing research on primates due to the activists.

However, Garcia said the demonstrators are not violent against the faculty.

"The animal rights movement has not harmed any living being," she said. "The only thing that the animal rights activists have been involved in is speech, and then there is a fringe group that is involved in property damage."

But Steven Beckwith, UC vice president for research, said this legislation is necessary because some demonstrators have crossed the line of civilized protest and free speech.

"As a university, we really cherish free speech," Beckwith said. "So free speech is not the issue. The issue is violence. In particular, we don't tolerate terrorism."


Contact Maria Krauter at [email protected]

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