Greenpeace, charged with the obscure crime of "sailor mongering" that was last prosecuted 114 years ago, goes on trial on Monday in the first U.S. criminal prosecution of an advocacy group for civil disobedience.
Sailor mongering was rife in the 19th century when brothels sent prostitutes laden with booze onto ships as they made their way to harbor. The idea was to get the sailors so drunk they could be whisked to shore and held in bondage, and a law was passed against it in 1872. It has only been used in a court of law twice, the last time in 1890.
U.S. prosecutors argue Greenpeace did something like that when two "climbers" clambered aboard the Jade to hang a sign demanding, "President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging."
Six Greenpeace activists were charged after the 2002 protest in choppy waters off Miami, pleaded guilty and sentenced to time served -- the weekend they spent in jail. But U.S. prosecutors were not satisfied, and 15 months later came up with a grand jury indictment of the entire organization for sailor mongering. [...] If convicted, Greenpeace could be placed on probation, and pay a $10,000 fine.
Not once since the Boston Tea Party have U.S. authorities criminally prosecuted a group for political expression.
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