At the long-awaited trial of a “pro-Palestine, anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist” political activist who was arrested last year at Boston University, freedom of speech once again became the center of debate.
Pete Lowney, 37, was convicted yesterday at the Brighton District Court House for possession of a wiretapping device, sentenced to up to two years in jail and fined $500. The judge threw out a disorderly conduct charge.
The judge suspended the sentence until June 2008. If Lowney does not violate the terms of his probation, he will not be sentenced for the offense.
Lowney’s “wiretapping device” was a video camera he used to record the police officer who tried to make him stop protesting at BU in December 2006 after the cop thought the recording device was off. In addition to the fine and potential jail time, Lowney is also required to take the video of the officer arresting him off the Internet.
Lowney’s lawyer disputed the wiretapping device charge.
“The [wiretapping] law is designed to punish people who are secretly recording,” said defense attorney Beverly Chorbajian. “Our position is that there was nothing secretive about it. The officer knew that this camera was being used.”
Lowney and a friend were arrested outside the College of General Studies in December 2006 while protesting a Darfur event organized by the BU School of Public Health.
“The officer approached the protesters and asked, ‘Are you taping me? I don’t want to be taped,'” the prosecuting attorney said in court. “The protester put the camera in his pocket, and at that point the officer thought that the camera was off, so that portion of the recording was done in secret.”
Witness David Rolde, who demonstrated with Lowney last December, said the charges are completely unjustified.
“We were standing outside on a public sidewalk. We weren’t blocking anything, and [Lowney] had the camera in plain view,” Rolde said.
The Darfur event, titled “Accountable to Humanity: Justice in Darfur,” sought to inform students about the crisis in Darfur and educate them about opportunities to get involved and help victims in the war-torn region.
“They are making up racist lies about Sudan to justify [a United States] invasion,” Lowney said. “Sudan’s an oil-rich country. The Save Darfur group is making up any reason they can to invade.”
Lowney and Rolde were holding an 8-by-4-foot banner expressing their controversial opinions when BU Police Department officer Sgt. Patrick Nuzzi approached to ask them to leave.
“The officer gave us a number of different reasons why we couldn’t be there,” Lowney said. “Because we didn’t have I.D., and that we had to be moving around at all times. Also, that we were blocking pedestrians and the doorway.”
The prosecuting attorney argued that BU is private property and Lowney and his group were blocking students’ pathway, causing an “annoyance and disturbance.”
Lowney said they were not blocking the doorway, and that there were no complaints from anyone in the area, although the police report states otherwise.
“We certainly allow people to publicly protest and demonstrate,” said BUPD Captain Robert Molloy, “as long as they are not blocking traffic, are peaceful and no destruction is taking place. It’s their right to march and protest. The BU police make sure they are allowed to do that.”
Nuzzi declined comment on the case.
Two years ago, another incident involving Lowney and the BUPD took place when Lowney was protesting an event held at BU’s Florence ‘ Chavetz Hillel House regarding the presence of an Israeli state in Palestine, but he was not arrested then.