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UN Expert Slams UK’s Tough Stance on Environmental Protests

EnvironmentUN Expert Slams UK's Tough Stance on Environmental Protests
The United Nations special rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, has raised concerns about the UK’s severe crackdown on environmental protests. In a recent statement, Forst criticized the implementation of “draconian” new laws, excessive restrictions on courtroom evidence, and the use of civil injunctions, stating that these measures are having a chilling impact on fundamental freedoms.

Protecting Environmental Protesters

Forst emphasized that environmental protesters play a crucial role in addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. He highlighted the importance of protecting these individuals, stating that they are acting for the benefit of society as a whole and should be safeguarded from undue repression. During a visit to the UK, Forst uncovered troubling information regarding the treatment of peaceful protesters. He expressed concern about the rules imposed on defendants in one London court, which prevented them from explaining their motivations to the jury. Additionally, peaceful protesters were prohibited from mentioning crucial topics such as the climate crisis, fuel poverty, or the US civil rights movement in their statements to the jury. Forst questioned the justification for denying the jury the opportunity to hear the reasons for the defendants’ actions, particularly amid the urgent calls for government action on the climate. He also highlighted the prosecution of peaceful protesters under regressive new public nuisance laws, which carry a 10-year sentence, and the use of the Public Order Act 2023, stating that these measures are criminalizing peaceful demonstrations.

Regressive New Laws and Criminalizing Protests

Notably, Forst pointed out a case where a peaceful protester was jailed for six months under the new public order law for walking slowly down a road for 30 minutes during a climate protest. He expressed serious concern about these regressive new laws, emphasizing that imprisoning members of the public for peaceful protest was almost unheard of in the UK prior to these legislative developments.
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The special rapporteur also highlighted the harsh bail conditions imposed on climate activists for peaceful protests, including the wearing of electronic ankle tags, movement restrictions, and bans on communication with other environmental activists. Forst raised questions about the necessity and proportionality of such severe bail conditions for individuals engaged in peaceful protest, stressing their significant impacts on personal lives and mental health.

Impact on Civil Society and Fundamental Freedoms

In addition, Forst condemned the widespread use of civil injunctions to stop peaceful protests and the “toxic” discourse in the media and among politicians about climate protesters. He expressed concern that such discourse could be used as a justification for adopting increasingly severe measures against environmental defenders, resulting in a significant chilling effect on civil society and the exercise of fundamental freedoms. Acknowledging the gravity of his concerns, Forst indicated that his investigations are ongoing as he considers formal complaints about the treatment of environmental defenders. He called for a constructive dialogue with the UK government to ensure that individuals seeking to protect the environment are not subjected to persecution, penalization, or harassment for their actions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the statement by the United Nations special rapporteur sheds light on the challenges faced by environmental protesters in the UK and the impacts of stringent laws and restrictions on their fundamental freedoms. The call for dialogue and the protection of environmental defenders underscores the importance of upholding civil liberties and ensuring that individuals can peacefully advocate for environmental action without fear of persecution.
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