The Ghent court of appeal has heavily reduced the sentences of 11 protesters who were accused of causing criminal damage for their role in destroying a GM potato crop in 2011
Good news from Belgium – a conviction of "criminal conspiracy" against a group of people who liberated a field from GM potatoes has been thrown out by an appeals court.
Some other charges like "stealing vegetables from the land" were upheld but it is thought that there will be no serious consequences.
GMO potato protesters win lighter sentences on appeal
by Alan Hope
Flanders Today, 24 Dec 2014
A group of protesters who objected to a test project of genetically modified potatoes have had their sentences drastically reduced by the Ghent court of appeal, after the court threw out a conviction for criminal conspiracy.
The action by the so-called Field Liberation Movement took place in the East Flemish town of Wetteren in May 2011. The target: a field of test crops being grown as part of an experiment run by the University of Ghent, the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology and the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, both agencies of the Flemish government. The activists destroyed a third of the potato crop and clashed with police, who made 40 arrests.
In the initial trial, a group of 11 activists was convicted of criminal damage and conspiracy, and given suspended sentences of three to six months as well as fines of €550.
The appeal court has now reduced the sentences to one month suspended. The fines, however, remain unchanged. An order for €15,000 in damages against the accused was also upheld on appeal.
“There is no question of a criminal association, because there was no criminal intent,” the court’s judgement says. “This has more to do with a movement that an association,” the ruling reads.
“In principle, we are very happy with the acquittal for conspiracy,” said defence lawyer Mieke Van den Broeck. The original conviction on that charge, she said, could have formed a precedent meaning that anyone who carried out any action, even if it was not in itself a crime, might have been brought to court. “The whole case was based on an over-reaction, as much on the part of the prosecutor as the civil parties,” she said, referring to the research organisations involved in the project.
Lawyer Kristiaan Vandenbussche, representing the research institutes, admitted: “We can agree that the charge of conspiracy is not proven. It’s obvious they are not hardened criminals. This is no more than a group of people who came together on the day itself to do some damage.”