The Bully in the playground

Taken from SPEAK 25th October 2006

At the time of writing the article below, solicitors for Oxford University are attempting to drag back to the High Court two prominent members of the SPEAK campaign.

The pair is being threatened with heavy fines and imprisonment for daring to SPEAK the truth.

We live in a supposed democracy, yet it is that very democracy which is banning people from SPEAKING OUT. Now more than ever, SPEAK needs the animal rights movement to show its support.

Today it is SPEAK representatives facing jail – not for what they have done but for what they have said. No illegal act has been committed – their only crime is one of SPEAKING the Truth. Do nothing now and tomorrow it could be you they come for.

Where the serious matter of life, death, humanitarian principles and our collective rights and responsibilities as a species towards other life forms are concerned, an approach matching the gravity of such issues is needed when engaging in dialogue to establish and agree upon the ethical and moral guidelines therein.

Very little constructive dialogue has ever been entered into by opposing factions in the great divide about the use and abuse of animals because those who support and benefit from animal abuse are reluctant do so. The majority of the public express no views about these issues because society has merely accepted them as a given without ever understanding the true implications of their silent acceptance of what, simply put, constitutes mass murder.

Where no dialogue is possible, other routes must be chosen by organisations campaigning to open up the debate and inform the public about what goes on in their name.

SPEAK campaigns, like many other animal protection organisations, have experienced extraordinary resistance to their attempts to publicise the facts about the highly emotive issue of vivisection. Oxford University’s new lab, which has been under construction since 2004 when the campaigning group was founded, has become a hotly contested ‘flashpoint’, which has resulted in the enforcement of injunctions and orders to attempt to prevent the group and its supporters from exercising their democratic right to speak out against the project, and to expose the university and the wider vivisection industry for its dissemination of false propaganda and its refusal to accept that there is a serious moral and scientific issue at stake.

Under the various banning orders and injunctions applied for to date to ‘disarm’ SPEAK (which, lest it be forgotten, are only interim junctions and have never actually been brought to trial in order to be fairly contested), individuals have been banned from entering Oxford, and have been prevented by police from distributing leaflets portraying ‘offensive’ material (offensive because they show images of animal suffering, and therefore by extension imply that the acts committed under the umbrella of the law to cause that suffering are offensive).

The campaign has been denied the right to publish the names of companies affiliated to the project, even though their details are widely available in the public domain, and can readily be sourced in scientific journals, newspapers, in Internet searches etc. These are all now bracketed under the armoury of protected persons.

While Oxford University vivisectors and the wider university community run repeatedly to the protection of the law so that they can continue their right to exercise their vile excesses in secrecy, no such right is afforded their victims who disappear without a trace as a mere statistic. While the law shields the vivisectors, those who fight for a statutory change in the law to afford animal’s equal status are made scapegoats of the legal system.

Referred to as terrorists and extremists for the views we have expressed, despite the fact that the campaign has been conducted within a legal framework and no laws have been breached, SPEAK campaigners have now been faced with a new order in response to the posting of details of the company they believe to be the building contractor employed on the South Parks Rd project in Oxford. SPEAK firmly believe that the public has a right to know who is involved.

Opponents of apartheid frequently resorted to boycotting or demonstrating against companies collaborating with the regime. Without access to that information, they would have been unable to voice their objections to a profound moral injustice. As individuals in a democracy, it was their right to express their view; those under the apartheid regime had no such right. The SPEAK campaign – like many other pro-active groups – has followed that tradition of active protest in speaking out for those who cannot.

If the University believes it can silence opposition by using the playground tactics it has employed to drag individuals through the courts, they have clearly miscalculated the mood of campaigners. They fear constant exposure so much that they need to duck and dive behind the law to try to control legitimate protest; it simply proves them to be bullies, and thus by definition, cowards, afraid to come out into the open.

The constant filtration of the anti-vivisection message into the social arena is damaging their credibility and forcing them onto the defensive, and that is a sure sign that things aren’t quite as easy for them as they would like us to believe. In many ways, perversely, by misusing their power in seeking legal means to silence SPEAK’s legitimate campaign (and indeed by wasting taxpayers’ money, which would be far better put to use in setting up much needed public sector health services or in developing more reliable research methods than those based on animal torture), the message they are giving out to anti-vivisectionists and the wider public is that they have indeed got much to hide. In fact, they are doing the anti-vivisection movement a favour: every time they drag people through the court to prevent them expressing their view, support for the campaign increases.

Make no mistake, the mood amongst campaigners is positive and upbeat. Plucking them out one by one and criminalising them only means that they will come back stronger and more determined. They are set on a course, and that course remains to speak up, speak out and refuse to be silenced. The message is clear: this campaign is not for turning.

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