NEWS

Animal Rights Extremists Step Up Attacks on Drug Maker in Europe

By Matthew Harwood

European animal rights extremists have targeted the CEO of a Swiss pharmaceutical giant in a string of attacks to intimidate the company into cutting ties with a research laboratory that provides product testing on animals.

According to the drug maker Novartis AG, animal rights extremists have desecrated at these two grave sites of its CEO, Daniel Vasella, while allegedly torching his vacation home in Bach, Austria.

The animal rights extremists want Novartis AG to cease all ties to the U.K.-based company, Huntingdon Life Sciences, which provides product testings services on animals. A spokesman for the company told Dow Jones Newswires that it no longer works with HLS and hasn't done so in years.

In the first instance last week, animal rights extremists dug up the ashes of Vasella's mother in the Swiss city of Chur, spray painting "Drop HLS Now" in red letters on her tombstone. Then Swiss police confirmed today that a second grave site of the Vasella family had been desecrated with the same red graffiti tagline and two crosses plunged into the ground. Swiss media, according to Reuters, reports Vasella and his wife's name appeared on the crosses. The police, however, would not confirm those reports. A police spokesman did say that the letters "SHAC" were found spray-painted at the site.

"SHAC" stands for Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, a British-based militant animal rights organizations that has used aggressive civil disobedience tactics to protest HLS and any company that uses its services throughout Europe and the United States. By protesting companies that use HLS, a tactic known as secondary targeting, the activists believe they can get those companies to sever ties with HLS, ultimately driving the laboratory into bankruptcy.

And the macabre grave desecrations aren't the first time animal rights extremists have exhumed someone's remains. In 2006, four animal rights activists in the United Kingdom were convicted of stealing the remains of a guinea pig breeder's mother-in-law in 2004 because he bred the pigs for research.

On Monday, Vasella's hunting lodge caught fire, destroying half of it. Bite Back Magazine, an online animal liberation publication, said it received and posted a message claiming responsibility for the arson from "MFAH Austria," which Dow Jones reports could be a reference to Forces Against Huntingdon Life Sciences. The message's author said the perpetrators used 60 liters of petrol to burn down Vasella's house and that they will attack his "private life wherever possible." Austrian police, however, believe the fire was electrical in nature, although they haven't ruled out the possibility of arson, reports Dow Jones.

SHAC has denied any involvement with the attacks, but hasn't condemned them either, reports Reuters.

"If it was actually done by animal rights people, it's because of their frustration of Novartis' continued use of HLS," the group said in an emailed statement to Reuters. "Isn't it about time we stopped the misery of vivisection?"

Juerg Buehler, director of the Swiss government's Service for Analysis and Prevention, told The Associated Press that there was no evidence linking anyone to the fire but said that SHAC cannot be ruled out. SHAC has been active in Switzerland for about five years, reports the AP.

This recent campaign of intimidation also includes spray painted messages on Vasella's street calling him "a killer" and that "we are watching you," vandalized cars and homes of Novartis employees, as well as a fire at a company sports facility in France, which no media report or company spokesperson tied directly to animal rights extremists.

The recent attacks, reports Reuters, have caused fear that Europe is once again experiencing a new uptick in animal rights extremism. Attacks died down after the U.K. gave police increased powers in 2005 to go after and prosecute animal rights extremists for intimidating or interfering with animal research organizations.

In the United States, as reported in the April 2009 print issue of Security Management, animal rights extremists have targeted researchers of the University of California system, sometimes firebombing researchers' cars and homes.

Attacks have died down during the new year, with only one direct attack on a UC researcher this year, according to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which supports animal testing.

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