North Dakota Bills Could Strip Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters of Their Rights

by Carimah Townes –

Standing Rock protesters face five new threats.

Over the weekend, veterans flocked to Standing Rock to shield Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters from law enforcement — the second time they’ve done so in recent months. But North Dakota lawmakers are now planning to radically constrict the right of DAPL opponents, including veterans, to demonstrate against the project.

There are currently four bills in the state’s House and Senate that create new criminal penalties for acts of protest or heighten existing penalties. And there is a fifth bill that could put demonstrators in physical danger.

HB 1193 turns a misdemeanor offense into a felony if the offense is “done intentionally to cause direct or indirect economic harm in excess of one thousand dollars to the government or to a person.”

HB 1203 states that drivers who “negligently” injure or kill people obstructing traffic will not be responsible for the damage caused. Likewise, drivers who “unintentionally” injure or kill someone obstructing traffic will not be considered guilty of an offense.

HB 1304 is an emergency measure that prohibits people from donning a “mask, hood, or other device that covers, hides, or conceals any portion of that individual’s face,” in the attempt to intentionally hide their identity while committing a criminal offense. Doing so can result in a misdemeanor charge.

HB 1426 reclassifies the penalty for “riots” with 100 people or more, turning what was once a misdemeanor charge into a felony.

SB 2246 is an emergency bill to impose $5,000 fines on individuals who remain on public or private properties, as well as “environmentally sensitive areas,” after being told to vacate.

In a letter submitted to the State Capitol on Friday, Amnesty International implored state senators to cast “no” votes against all five bills.

“Repressive governments such as those in China and Iran are well known for passing laws in the name of security and safety that are used to prevent people from exercising their human rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” wrote Emily Walsh, a campaigner for the organization. “Under the U.S. Constitution and international law, it is the legitimate right of people to peacefully express their opinion, including by taking to the streets in peaceful protests and assemblies.”

None of the bills mention Standing Rock explicitly, but each of the proposed penalties would impact protesters who have gathered en masse along the pipeline route, part of which includes private farm land. The $3.8 billion pipeline is considered an economic priority for the state.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and their allies, who have already been prosecuted for their participation in DAPL protests, will have an even larger target on their backs should the legislation pass. Indeed, Walsh wrote that the bills “appear to discriminatorily target Indigenous Peoples and their allies opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline.”

The pipeline’s construction was put on temporary hold in December, but President Donald Trump restarted the project via executive order at the end of January. More than 550 people are awaiting trial for Standing Rock protests that happened last year.

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress