Indigenous Water Rights Activists Face Prosecution Years After Standing Rock

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While Biden’s action on Keystone XL and court rulings over Dakota Access constitute victories for the Indigenous-led climate movement, water protectors who stood on the frontlines of these battles continue to face grave repression and punitive consequences from the government, reports The Intercept. A full four years since the powerful Oceti Sakowin prayer camp at Standing Rock fought the pipeline’s construction, Indigenous water protector Steve Martinez was jailed this month in relation to his presence there — although he has not been convicted or even accused of a criminal offense. Martinez is being held for his refusal to give testimony before a federal grand jury, a notoriously secretive judicial process that has historically been weaponized against activist communities. Grand jury resisters like Martinez are detained under a torturous peculiarity in U.S. law that permits a judge to hold a person in contempt of court if they refuse to cooperate with a grand jury subpoena. The grand jury resister can then be imprisoned with the express purpose of coercing testimony.

If it can be shown that the coercion will not work, and the imprisonment is thus punitive, rather than coercive, such incarceration becomes illegal. It was for grand jury resistance that the incoercible Chelsea Manning was also recently imprisoned for over a year. The. U.S. is near unique among nations for its continued use of grand juries. The U.N. Special Rapporteur for Torture last year suggested that coercive confinement to force people to testify against their conscience meets the definitional criteria of torture and violates international human rights law. For over a century in the U.S., federal grand juries have been used to investigate and intimidate social movements — from the late-19th-century labor movements, to the Puerto Rican independence fighters and black liberationists of the last century, to environmentalists, anarchists, and Indigenous activists more recently. Given the secretive nature of federal grand jury proceedings, the government is under no obligation to prove the legitimacy of its actions.

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