Overview: European crackdown on climate protesters

Summary of article written by Damien GayleMatthew Taylor and Ajit Niranjan, published by The Guardian on 12/10/2023 – accessible here.

The UK has led the way, with countries across the continent making mass arrests, passing draconian new laws and labelling activists as eco-terrorists

Human rights experts and campaigners have warned against an intensifying crackdown on climate protests across Europe, as Guardian research found countries across the continent using repressive measures to silence activists.

In Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK, authorities have responded to climate protests with mass arrests, the passing of draconian new laws, the imposing of severe sentences for non-violent protests and the labelling of activists as hooligans, saboteurs or eco-terrorists.

The crackdowns have come in spite of calls by senior human rights advocates and environmental campaigners to allow civic space for the right to non-violent protest, after a summer of record-breaking heat in southern Europe that is attributed to the effects of climate breakdown.

The UK has led the way in the crackdown, experts say, with judges recently refusing an appeal against multi-year sentences for climate activists who blocked a motorway bridge in east London. The three-year jail terms for Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland earlier this year are thought to be the longest handed out by a British judge for non-violent protest.

There was widespread outrage this summer when France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, used one of the state’s most-powerful tools to order the banning of one of the country’s leading environmental protest groups.

Les Soulévements de la Terre, a collective of local environmental campaigns, had staged a series of protests, with tactics including sabotage, that ended with violent confrontations with police, and Darmanin denouncing the activists as “far left” and “ecoterrorists”.

In the Netherlands, one of a series of roadblock protests on the A12 highway in The Hague in May was dispersed by police using water cannon, with more than 1,500 arrested. Seven climate activists were convicted of sedition – a charge that had never before been levelled against climate protesters – in relation to online posts calling for people to join an earlier demonstration.

In Sweden, about two dozen members of the Återställ Våtmarker [Restore Wetlands] group were convicted of sabotage for blocking highways in the capital, Stockholm. Others were held on remand for up to four weeks for taking part in protests.

In Germany in May, police staged nationwide raids against the Letzte Generation (Last Generation) group, whose supporters had glued themselves to roads on a near-weekly basis for months, as well as targeting art galleries and other cultural spaces. On a police directive, the homepage of the group was shut down and possessions belonging to members were seized.