Morning Star Editorial: ‘Raise the watchword, Liberty’ — and wake up to today’s brutish, authoritarian Britain

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UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention Michel Forst attended the trial of five Just Stop Oil supporters at Southwark Crown Court. He attended as an observer because of his serious concerns.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/raise-watchword-liberty-and-wake-todays-brutish-authoritarian-britain

Silencing defendants is the courtroom parallel to the wider attack on protest rights by the last government, including the “public nuisance” offence the Just Stop Oil five have been found guilty of and other measures that allow the police to shut down demonstrations before they have even begun, or haul peaceful citizens off marches for carrying placards or wearing imagery they object to.

Both reveal the collapse of ruling-class confidence in the people they rule. Grasping, after the shocks of Brexit and the Corbyn movement, that people are deeply dissatisfied with the system, their only answer is to ban protest and silence dissidents.

We cannot be silenced. The stakes are too high: as the Just Stop Oil cause illustrates, climate change, in the form of erratic weather, increasingly severe droughts and floods and crop failure, is already upon us. British farms saw a 19 per cent income drop in the last year because of mass flooding. The disruption to our lives from upsets to food production and the water supply will outweigh that from halting traffic on a motorway. The five must be freed.

Labour in power has a chance to change course from the crazy authoritarianism of the Tories. It is committed to restoring workers’ strike rights — but it must be made to restore protest rights too. Like the Tolpuddle Martyrs, we must “raise the watchword, liberty,” defying a state that tramples on our freedoms.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/raise-watchword-liberty-and-wake-todays-brutish-authoritarian-britain

Continue ReadingMorning Star Editorial: ‘Raise the watchword, Liberty’ — and wake up to today’s brutish, authoritarian Britain

UK Climate Campaigners Get ‘Utterly Disproportionate’ Sentences

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Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

An activist puts up a banner reading “Just Stop Oil” atop an electronic traffic sign along M25 on November 10, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

“Rulings like today’s set a very dangerous precedent, not just for environmental protest but any form of peaceful protest,” a U.N. official said.

In a decision that one United Nations official called “beyond comprehension,” a U.K. judge on Thursday sentenced five Just Stop Oil activists to a combined 21 years in prison over a Zoom call in which they discussed plans to disrupt London’s orbital M25 highway.

The sentences are believed to be the longest on record for nonviolent protest in U.K. history, The Guardian reported.

“The sentences handed to the five Just Stop Oil campaigners are utterly disproportionate,” environmentalist and author George Monbiot wrote on social media. “Four and five years in prison for peaceful protest? This is what you might expect in Russia or Egypt, not in a supposed democracy.”

“Why are we punishing the people trying to prevent disaster while allowing the oil company giants causing it to reap super profits?”

The five activists—Roger Hallam, Daniel Shaw, Louise Lancaster, Lucia Whittaker De Abreu, and Cressida Gethin—were found guilty last week of conspiring to cause a public nuisance due to a four-day direct action protest on the M25 that Just Stop Oil ultimately held in November 2022. All of the defendants participated in a Zoom call in which they planned to recruit volunteers for the protest, which was intended to pressure the U.K. government to end oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, a policy that the incoming Labour government has now adopted. The Zoom call had been infiltrated by a Sun journalist, who shared its contents with the Metropolitan Police.

On Thursday, Judge Christopher Hehir sentenced Hallam to five years in prison and Shaw, Lancaster, De Abreu, and Gethin to four each.

The sentences sparked outrage from humans rights advocates and environmental campaigners.

Michel Forst, U.N. special rapporteur on environmental defenders who also observed part of the trial, said the sentencing “marks a dark day for peaceful environmental protest, the protection of environmental defenders, and indeed anyone concerned with the exercise of their fundamental freedoms in the United Kingdom.”

Forst added: “Rulings like today’s set a very dangerous precedent, not just for environmental protest but any form of peaceful protest that may, at one point or another, not align with the interests of the government of the day.”

Former Green Party leader and Member of Parliament Caroline Lucas called the sentences “obscene.”

“Why are we punishing the people trying to prevent disaster while allowing the oil company giants causing it to reap super profits?” she asked on social media.

Current Deputy Leader of the Green Party Zack Polanski said: “‘Conspiracy to commit a public nuisance’ is a deeply authoritarian description that should send shivers down the spine of all of us who want to live in a free society. Even worse when the real crime is consecutive governments who have played down the climate emergency.”

Campaigners and experts also criticized the trial itself, in which Hehir did not allow the defendants to present evidence about the climate crisis to explain their actions.

“Defendants should be allowed to explain why they have decided to use nonconventional but yet peaceful forms of action, like civil disobedience, when they engage in environmental protest,” Forst told The Guardian after attending part of the trial.

Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London—who Hehir did not allow the defendants to call as a witness—called the trial and verdict a “farce.”

“They mark a low point in British justice, and they were an assault on free speech,” McGuire in a statement said Thursday. “The judge’s characterization of climate breakdown as a matter of opinion and belief is completely nonsensical and demonstrates extraordinary ignorance. Similarly to suggest that the climate emergency is irrelevant in relation to whether the defendants had a reasonable case for action is crass stupidity.”

The verdict and sentencing also come amid an increasing crackdown on climate protest, both globally and in the U.K. The previous longest known civil disobedience sentences in the country were also for Just Stop Oil activists.

“The U.K. is a nightmare for climate activists from this point of view, in the sense that the sentences imposed in other countries are neither that harsh, nor that widespread,” Forst said July 12.

Greenpeace U.K.’s program director Amy Cameron said on Thursday: “These sentences are not a one-off anomaly but the culmination of years of repressive legislation, overblown government rhetoric, and a concerted assault on the right of juries to deliberate according to their conscience. It’s part of the mess the Labour government has inherited from its predecessor, and they must fix it by giving back to people the right to protest that’s been slowly being taken away from them.”

Forst also called on the new government to reverse course.

“Given the gravity of the situation, I urge the new United Kingdom government, with absolute urgency and without undo delay, to take all necessary steps to ensure that Mr. Shaw’s sentence is reduced in line with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Aarhus Convention,” Forst wrote on Thursday.

Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingUK Climate Campaigners Get ‘Utterly Disproportionate’ Sentences

Just Stop Oil supporters receive huge sentences for participating in a Zoom call

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UN Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders under the Aarhus Convention Michel Forst attended the trial of five Just Stop Oil supporters at Southwark Crown Court. He attended as an observer because of his serious concerns.

Five Just Stop Oil supporters were handed multi-year prison sentences today for nothing more than participating in a Zoom call. Many UK news reports are claiming that they were jailed for blocking the M25 which is untrue. They were jailed for conspiring to block the M25 by participating in a Zoom meeting.

At Southwark Crown Court, Judge Christopher Hehir jailed Roger Hallam (57, from Wales) for five years, whilst Daniel Shaw (38, from Northampton), Lucia Whittaker De Abreu (34, from Derby), Louise Lancaster (58, from Cambridge) and Cressida Gethin (22, from Hereford) were each sentenced to four years.

They were convicted last week of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance in relation to the M25 motorway disruption in November 2022.

At last week’s trial, Judge Hehir ruled that climate issues were ‘irrelevant and inadmissible’, dismissing them as mere ‘political opinion and belief’. Although the legislation includes a defence of ‘reasonable excuse’ and despite the prosecution acknowledging the imminent catastrophic and irreversible harm from burning fossil fuels, the judge prevented the jury from considering whether the defendants had a reasonable excuse and directed them to ignore any evidence about the climate crisis. 

When the defendants insisted on honouring their oaths to tell the jury the whole truth about their actions and refused to leave the witness box until they had done so, the judge repeatedly had them arrested and jailed throughout the trial.

The judge also refused the defence request to call Professor Bill McGuire as a witness, one of the world’s leading experts on climate impacts.

Today Professor McGuire, Emeritus Professor of Geophysical & Climate Hazards at University College London, said:

“The trial and verdict were a farce. They mark a low point in British justice and they were an assault on free speech. The judge’s characterisation of climate breakdown as a matter of opinion and belief is completely nonsensical and demonstrates extraordinary ignorance. Similarly to suggest that the climate emergency is irrelevant in relation to whether the defendants had a reasonable case for action is crass stupidity.” 

Continue ReadingJust Stop Oil supporters receive huge sentences for participating in a Zoom call

Activists arrested in draconian crackdown ahead of planned march to parliament

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https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/activists-preemptively-arrested-draconian-crackdown-ahead-march-parliament

Police carry off a Youth Demand protester during a demonstration against the state opening of parliament, July 17, 2024 Photo: Youth Demand

POLICE stormed a cafe and arrested activists before they had even begun marching today in the latest crackdown on the right to protest.

The Youth Demand activists were sipping their morning coffees in a branch of Leon in central London, ahead of a peaceful pro-Palestine demonstration planned by the group.

The activists were due to march towards Parliament, where the state opening was taking place, to urge the new government to suspend arms to Israel and halt all oil and gas licences granted since 2021.

Ten activists were arrested in the cafe for “conspiracy to commit public nuisance.”

“How is this more harmful than the people arming Israel?” one of the activists shouted as they were dragged away by police.

Shortly after, in Victoria Embankment, another group of activists were kettled in by police before the march commenced. Dozens more were arrested on the same charge.

Among those arrested was Violet Powell, a 23-year-old student.

She said: “Our leaders hide behind pomp and ceremony while a genocide is going on, and our new government are refusing to take action beyond making meaningless platitudes.

“Young people will not allow yet another government to continue ‘business as usual,’ when that business is killing countless people.”

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/activists-preemptively-arrested-draconian-crackdown-ahead-march-parliament

Continue ReadingActivists arrested in draconian crackdown ahead of planned march to parliament

New government urged to scrap anti-protest laws to restore freedom of expression

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https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/new-government-urged-scrap-anti-protest-laws-restore-freedom-expression

Demonstrators during a ‘Kill The Bill’ protest against The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in London, January 15, 2022

LABOUR was urged today to scrap Tory anti-protest laws and reject harmful rhetoric used to stigmatise peaceful demonstrations.

Peace, pro-Palestine, environmental and civil liberties groups called on ministers to champion the rights to free speech by repealing the draconian legislation aimed at silencing dissent.

Amnesty International led the calls as it published a new report warning of an increasingly wide range of means to quash peaceful demonstrations and silence free speech across Europe.

It called on Home Secretary Yvette Cooper to urgently scrap the public order elements of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act as well as the entirety of the Public Order Act and the Serious Disruption Regulations.

Kerry Moscogiuri, of Amnesty International UK, said: “The new government must seize this moment to halt the alarming march towards repression in the UK by repealing the anti-protest laws pushed through by the previous government and ending the harmful rhetoric being used to stigmatise those who peacefully protest.

https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/new-government-urged-scrap-anti-protest-laws-restore-freedom-expression

Continue ReadingNew government urged to scrap anti-protest laws to restore freedom of expression