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First they came for Just Stop Oil

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Occasionally I read something I think worth sharing in full on this blog. I did yesterday. It was on the blog of an old friend, Jonathon Porritt, who has spent a lifetime campaigning on environmental issues. With his permission, I share it in full here, having only edited some formatting:

First they came for Just Stop Oil; then they came for radical environmentalists; then they came for members of the National Trust, the RSPB, and WWF. But there was no one left to speak for them.

I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m astonished at the lack of concern/interest on the part of “mainstream environmentalists” as we slide inexorably into a police state. The right to peaceful protest is still a basic human right. But you sure as hell wouldn’t know that here in the UK.

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On January 23rd, Michel Forst (the UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention) issued his interim report after his visit to the UK earlier in the month. It’s astonishing. In his own words:

  • “As the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear, States have a duty to facilitate the right to protest, and private entities and broader society may be expected to accept some level of disruption as a result of the exercise of this right.”
  • “Peaceful protesters are being prosecuted and convicted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, for the criminal offence of “Public Nuisance”, which is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. I was also informed that the Public Order Act 2023 is being used to further criminalise peaceful protest.”
  • “In some recent cases, presiding judges have forbidden environmental defenders from explaining to the jury their motivation for participating in a given protest or from mentioning climate change at all”.
  • “I am deeply troubled at the use of civil injunctions to ban protests in certain areas, including on public roadways. Anyone who breaches this injunctions is liable for up to two years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.”
  • “Prior to these legislative developments, it had been almost unheard of since the 1930s for members of the public to be imprisoned for peaceful protest in the UK. I am therefore seriously concerned by these regressive new laws”.

Michel Forst is telling it as he sees it. But I’m not sure most mainstream environmentalists actually understand what is currently going on out there.

  1. Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland got the longest sentences in UK modern history for protesting, given 2 years and 7 months, and 3 years respectively, after climbing the Queen Elizabeth II bridge over the Dartford Crossing with a Just Stop Oil banner.
  2. Defendants on trial for public nuisance, after a peaceful protest, were forbidden from saying the words climate change, fuel poverty and the civil rights movement.
  3. Steven Gingell was jailed for six months after pleading guilty to being in a peaceful protest march on a London Road. This sentence is thought to be the first jailing under the Public Order Act 2023, which has an offence of “interference with key national infrastructure”
  4. Tim Hughes, a 73-year-old clergyman, was arrested in November 2022, and charged with Conspiracy to Cause a Public Nuisance. He was on remand in Wandsworth Prison for 6 weeks, then released on bail in January 2023, subject to wearing a tag. His trial is not scheduled until February 2025. Two years wearing a tag – without having been convicted of any offence!
  5. Civil injunctions have been issued to hundreds of individuals. A breach could mean imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
  6. Trudi Warner, a retired Social Worker, is being prosecuted for Contempt of Court for holding up a sign outside of a court defending the right of juries to decide a case on conscience.

(My huge thanks to Sandra Laville at the Guardian, and to Anita Mureithi at OpenDemocracy, for providing these updates.)

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Trudi Warner’s case has been taken up by Defend our Juries (@defendourjuries). On the 4th December, 600 people in 52 locations protested outside Crown Courts to defend the right of juries to decide a verdict on the basis of their conscience. (Their next Day of Action is on February 21st). As the Guardian recently pointed out: “A jury’s power to acquit had been seen for decades as a “constitutional safeguard” – insurance that the criminal law should conform to the ordinary person’s idea of what is fair that notion is held in contempt, evidently, by ministers”.

So here’s my request – to help ward off despair. Or rather, two requests:

  1. Can anybody send me chapter and verse, in the public domain, from any of the mainstream environmental organisations, condemning any of this in the same terms as Michel Forst?
  2. Can anybody send me chapter and verse, in the public domain, of anyone in the Labour Shadow Cabinet, condemning any of this in the same terms as Michel Forst?

These are genuine requests for information – to dispel my worst fears about gutless mainstream NGOs and equally gutless Labour politicians.

January 15th was Martin Luther King day in the USA. Ben Philips, Director of Communications for UNAID, wrote an excellent blog to mark the day:

“When Dr King said the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice, he didn’t mean this process is automatic; as he noted, “social progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people.” Justice, Dr King taught, is never given, it is only ever won. This always involves having the courage to confront power. Indeed, he noted, the greatest stumbling block to progress is not the implacable opponent, but those who claim to support change but are “more devoted to order than justice”. As he put it, “frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action movement that was “well-timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly. This “wait!” has almost always meant “never”.

Please think of those words every time you leap to condemn the tactics of young climate campaigners here in the UK, even as our police state closes down on them more and more repressively.

And if you need any confirmation of what’s going on here, please read George Monbiot’s brilliant article in the Guardian on Saturday 3rd February (“It’s a Plutocrat’s World – and all Dissenters are Swiftly Crushed”):

“Why, in the UK, can you now potentially receive a longer sentence for “public nuisance” – non-violent civil disobedience – than for rape or manslaughter? Peaceful environmental campaigners are being held on bail for up to 2 years, subjected to electronic tags, GPS tracking and curfews. Even before you’ve been tried, let alone found guilty, your life is shredded.”

And he tellingly adds exactly why these deep injustices are now becoming common place:

“Why is all this happening? Because the UK, the US and many other nations have become closed shops run by the Plutocrats’ Trade Union. Inequality demands oppression. The more concentrated wealth and power become, the more those who challenge the rich and powerful must be hounded and crushed”.

And isn’t that the truth of it?

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