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MASS EXTERMI-NATION: Case dropped against animal rights activist for exposing farmed animal torture

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Time and time again, prosecutors drop charges against us at the last minute as public pressure builds. The government and the industry see the power of our movement to expose their corruption and cruelty.

WILLIAM MORRIS: Prosecutors have dismissed a second case against an Iowa animal rights activist who recorded secret video of hogs being euthanized at two Iowa pork facilities. Cresco native Matt Johnson, an activist affiliated with the organization Direct Action Everywhere, made headlines in early 2020 when he released footage of hundreds of pigs being killed in Grundy County by Iowa Select Farms, a major pork producer, early in the pandemic.

Unable to ship pigs to slaughterhouses that were shuttered due to COVID, Select Farms euthanized the animals by shutting down ventilation in their barns and overheating them. Company officials said afterward that the process was the safest and most humane option available, and condemned activists for using hidden cameras and false pretenses to infiltrate their facilities…

Johnson was charged with trespass and other crimes at two Select Farms facilities in Grundy and Wright counties. Grundy County prosecutors dismissed their charges on the eve of a January 2021 trial, saying the company had asked the case be dismissed after Johnson subpoenaed a number of Select Farms executives and employees to testify…

In the leadup to trial, Matt Johnson had filed a motion to dismiss his food operation trespass charges, arguing that the law amounted to criminalizing free speech and journalistic investigations in violation of the First Amendment… Iowa legislators have passed four so-called “ag-gag” laws over the past decade, and litigation against several remains ongoing…

In Wright County, Johnson’s trial was to begin Thursday, but again, prosecutors have backed down. Prosecutors filed a motion Tuesday to dismiss all charges against Johnson “in the interest of justice,” which the judge granted after a short hearing Wednesday. In an interview, Johnson said agricultural interests want laws to deter activists such as himself but haven’t been willing to face scrutiny in court themselves.

“I think it speaks to the moral power of what we’re doing,” he said. “And when push comes to shove and it’s time to publicly account for their actions, they want no part of it”… The dismissal is a new twist in a long-running Iowa policy battle. In addition to burglary and electronic eavesdropping charges, Johnson was also charged with food operation trespass, a law designed to counter the practice by animal rights activists of publicizing photos and videos from inside animal barns and slaughterhouses…

In an ironic procedural twist, Matt Johnson opposed the state’s effort to dismiss the case, arguing that he deserved a right to clear his name of some of the more inflammatory allegations against him. The judge refused, saying he would not order a jury to appear just for the prosecutor to refuse to try the case.

As for the judge’s ruling on the charges’ constitutionality, Matt Johnson and his attorney, Wayne Hsiung, think the war there is far from over. “(The judge) himself can see that animal rights activists are pretty likely being targeted by the statute, but because facially the law literally does not say it’s criminalizing speech, even its intent was to discriminate against people expressing certain views, (he) doesn’t have grounds to strike this entire law down,” Hsiung said.

“Honestly, the appropriate venue for us to challenge this law on its face as unconstitutional is an appellate court and likely federal court,” he added. “And I think that you might see that sort of challenge presented over the course the next few months and years”. SOURCE…

Matt Johnsons released the following statement:

My felony trial was set to start tomorrow for investigating animal cruelty at Iowa Select Farms and rescuing a sick piglet named Gilly. International media outlets had requested coverage in court and people from around the country were planning to attend the trial to support the right to rescue.

But yesterday, less than an hour before a court hearing on expanding media coverage for the trial, the prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss all charges against me, which the judge granted today.

Time and time again, prosecutors drop charges against us at the last minute as public pressure builds. The government and the industry see the power of our movement to expose their corruption and cruelty. That’s exactly why we must keep the pressure building!

Dozens of people are still gathering in Iowa this week to build off the momentum of this victory. We will not let ISF continue to get away with this cruelty, and we now have a major opportunity to pressure the state to overturn ag-gag laws and support the right to rescue, since they’ve shown these are not prosecutable cases.

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