HOUSTON, Texas, January 15, 2010 (ENS) – A Rainforest Action Network team of runners that is openly critical of Chevron’s human rights record in Ecuador was kicked out of the Chevron Houston Marathon Expo today by the marathon’s Managing Director Steven Karpas.

The runners had paid for a table to distribute “I’m Running for Human Rights” stickers and information about Chevron’s refusal to clean up over 18 billion tons of toxic oil sludge in the Ecuadorean rainforest.

At 10 am, Karpas told the Rainforest Action Network team, “higher ups at Chevron are freaking out” and threatened to arrest the runners. Police then ejected the runners from the city-owned and operated George R. Brown Convention Center for exercising their right to free speech.

“We are outraged that Chevron would deny marathon participants the right to run for what they believe, in our case, human rights in Ecuador,” said Rainforest Action Network runner Maria Ramos.

“It is sad that the Chevron Houston Marathon – which raises awareness and money for many important causes – would deny the rights of participants to appease a corporate sponsor that is clearly ashamed of its human rights record,” said Ramos.

When asked for a reason for their ejection, Karpas told the runners they were being removed for “protest activities.”

The Rainforest Action Network team says its objective at the Expo was not to protest, disrupt the Expo or dampen other runners experience at this important race. The runners merely wanted to sit at their table and invite other runners to run with them for human rights.

While in Houston, Rainforest Action Network advocates say they will run in the race, unveil “Energy Shouldn’t Cost Lives” banners along the race route, distribute “I’m Running for Human Rights” stickers to other runners, and host a free screening of Crude, a documentary film about the contamination crisis in Ecuador.

Rainforest Action Network has staged many protests on other issues in other locations, such as their zombie-themed protest at the San Francisco EPA building on the end mountaintop removal day of action, October 30, 2009.

More than 26,000 runners are expected to participate in four running events in Houston on Sunday – the Chevron Houston Marathon, Aramco Houston Half Marathon, El Paso Corporation 5K and Texas Children’s Hospital Kids’ Fun Run.

The annual charity event raises money for 46 Houston-area nonprofit organizations. More than 5,000 volunteers organize the race, which is Houston’s largest single-day sporting event.

Chevron is currently facing a $27.3 billion pollution judgment against the company in an Ecuadorean court over toxic petroleum pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

The legal case, Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco, originally was filed in New York federal district court in 1993 against the oil company Texaco on behalf of 30,000 residents of Ecuador’s rainforest. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001 and will bear any liability in the case.

The lawsuit alleges that Texaco used a variety of sub-standard production practices in Ecuador that resulted in the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways. Five indigenous groups have lost their traditional lifestyles and one group has disappeared.

On Wednesday, representatives of Amazonian indigenous groups in Ecuador went to U.S. federal court in New York to enjoin Chevron from initiating a closed-door international arbitration against Ecuador’s government designed to eliminate the company’s potential $27 billion liability for contaminating a vast area of rainforest and devastating the local population.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.