Support Imprisoned Protesters

There is a long history of juries acquitting activists in criminal cases on the basis that they are acting to prevent a greater wrong. But the right for defendants to tell the truth and give the context for their actions is under threat.

In an outrageous decision, Judge Silas Reid has instructed climate protesters facing criminal charges not to refer to climate change as a motivation for their actions. When, in his defence statement, David Nixon mentioned the subject of insulation and its relation to climate change the judge jailed him for eight weeks for contempt of court.

In March 2023, despite the substantive case against them collapsing, Dorset councillor Giovanna Lewis, 65, and horticultural worker Amy Pritchard, 38, were jailed for seven weeks for contempt of court for talking about fuel poverty and climate change in court. Judge Reid told the defendants they had sought to "set themselves above the law" by mentioning aspects of their motivation in carrying out the October protest that were not relevant to jury deliberations. He concluded that the defendants had either set out to "manipulate" the jury into acquitting them even if they were sure of the pair's guilt, or to use the trial to continue their protest within the courtroom.  

A number of climate activists have been held for long periods on remand, in prison ahead of being found guilty for months at a time. Louis McKechnie was one of them. The JSO activist was held for 7 months without a trial after tying himself to a goalpost at a Premier League football game and participating in other actions. the cases of many more Just Stop Oil activists can be seen here.

Keeping legal courts and judiciary separate from political decision-making is a pre-requisite of a democratic state. The human right to manage your own defence at law, and sum up your case as you see it has been enshrined in UK law but is now at an end. To prevent an explanation of intent on the basis that it may influence the jury is a political action by the court. 

Climate activists, and anyone concerned for the state of democracy in Britain today should be concerned and activated by these decisions. Political censorship inside the judicial system has now effectively created political prisoners.

The Campaign against Climate Change has long called for support for climate protesters facing court action or sentenced for protesting. We are calling on all campaign groups and individuals to challenge the judgements of Silas Reid, raising the issue with MPs and human rights organisations.

The right to protest, and the very basis of democracy is under attack.

In 2021, then Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy but we will not tolerate guerrilla tactics that obstruct people going about their day-to-day business". Boris Johnson, Prime Minister at the time, added: "This government will always stand on the side of the law-abiding majority and ensure the toughest penalties possible for criminals who deliberately bring major roads to a standstill. We will give the police the powers they need to stop their reckless and selfish behaviour." See more here

The UK government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Home Secretary Suella Braverman have expanded those pledges, now curbing the right to strike as well as identifying asylum seekers as illegal human beings who may be deported to Rwanda without being allowed to present their case for refugee status.

The striking climate: If emissions get up your nose, picket

The information below, provided by our trade union group, is intended as a guide for climate activists on supporting striking workers. Of course, 'climate activists' and 'workers' are not mutually exclusive! Join a union

Quick links: How do I support a picket line? - Dos and Don'ts - If you can’t physically get to a picket line (inc hardship fund links)

Strikes - what, where, when

On 1st February, teachers were joined by university lecturers, civil servants and train and bus drivers in the biggest day of industrial action in a decade.

Upcoming strike dates (BBC website)

Why climate activists should support the strikes

Workers on picket lines are challenging the power of their employers, showing bravery and determination and deserve respect. The long days of picketing, cold and wet through the winter, allow plenty of time to build comradeship, find common interests, explore ideas and discuss issues of the day. For millions of trade unionists in the UK, the issue of the cost-of-living crisis is forefront in current struggles. For climate activists the costs to people and planet of the current fossil fuel economy is urgent. For both, we need system change.

As the climate catastrophe deepens, the need for cheap renewable energy to end reliance on fossil fuels will require radical action to ensure people's homes are insulated and transport is electrified using wind and solar energy generation. The fight of workers to be able to afford to heat their homes and travel to work becomes a fight to end the super-profits of oil and gas corporations and stop investment in new coal mines and oil fields when the money should be used for investment in renewable energy and climate jobs.

Whilst the cost of living crisis involves a rate of inflation at above 11%, the current price inflation of staple foodstuffs is running at between 18-30% a year in the UK. The extreme weather events this year alone, caused by accelerating heating of the planet from gases emitted from current methods of production, has seen food harvests severely affected and some completely destroyed, here and across the world leading to food-price hikes and, in the worst cases, famine. 

In the media, public sector strikes are often presented as being solely about pay. In fact they are broader than that, and are a fight against cuts damaging public services which provide the essential social infrastructure of this country. And in some cases these services play a key role in reducing emissions, for example public transport. 

In the short term, rail unions have basic demands like safe staffing levels being maintained. In the long term they generally call for renationalisation of rail. This links directly with climate action: to cut emissions we need investment in electrification of rail, bus and coach services and an integrated not-for-profit public transport system, affordable and dependable to move passengers and freight out of polluting cars and lorries. The strike action is therefore directly linked with environmental issues, and that discussion can encourage trade unionists to take-up climate demands inside their union and with the employer.

COP27 fails on cutting emissions, offers help to pay for loss and damage that will result

The main headline from COP27: after twenty-seven years of climate negotiations, progress on actually cutting emissions is as painfully slow as ever. Meanwhile the chance of staying under 1.5C of warming is rapidly disappearing, and the impacts of climate breakdown are devastating communities around the world.

The Egyptian government saw hosting the summit as an opportunity to enhance prestige, but the international attention also shone a spotlight on its human rights abuses, with a crackdown on protesters ahead of COP27. The most powerful voice at the summit was arguably a man who who was not even in Sharm el-Sheikh, but in prison. Alaa Abd El Fattah, a British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist and writer, who has been in prison for most of the past nine years, escalated his ongoing hunger strike to stop drinking water as COP27 began.

Due to the restrictions imposed on protest in the streets of Egypt , for the first time ever, climate activists marched within the Blue Zone (governed by UN rules). Their slogan, "We have not yet been defeated" echoed the the title of Alaa Abd El Fattah's book of essays, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated. Solidarity climate protests around the world called for the freeing of Alaa and the many other political prisoners in Egypt, that there could be no climate justice without human rights.

Loss and Damage fund finally established

COP27 did produce one big win for countries on the frontline of climate breakdown. After decades of blocking by rich nations, a loss and damage fund was agreed for countries most affected by climate change to cover devastating impacts like flooding and drought. In the run up to COP27, negotiations had been needed to even get loss and damage onto the agenda. This fund is a significant win for powerful advocacy by climate-vulnerable countries and the global climate justice movement, and one which was fought over all the way.

But the new loss and damage fund is, for now, empty. The track record of rich nations on climate finance is not encouraging. Thirteen years ago in Copenhagen, rich nations pledged to provide US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and develop sustainably. That promise was broken, not just falling short on the total amount, but also in the substance of what has been provided, which has overwhelmingly been given as loans only, rather than grant funding.