European climate protesters under fire: UN

Environmental activists across Europe are facing growing hostility, a United Nations expert says, warning that the right to protest is “at risk” in a country often seen as a beacon of democracy.

Michel Forster, the United Nations special rapporteur on environmental defenders, said he was deeply troubled by the tough stance against climate activists in countries including France, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom.

He claimed that government ministers have been using terms such as “eco-terrorists” and “green Taliban” to describe non-violent activists, and blamed some media reports for contributing to increasingly hostile public attitudes.

“This will have a chilling effect,” warned Foster, an independent expert appointed under the U.N.’s Aarhus Convention. The Convention is a legally binding text that provides for justice in environmental matters.

“The right to protest is currently at risk in Europe.” Foster said he had recently visited several European countries after receiving complaints about activists being treated in ways that allegedly violated conventions and international human rights law. After visiting the UK, he publicly expressed alarm at “toxic rhetoric” and the “increasing crackdown” on environmentalists.

Foster has accused the UK of using “regressive laws” to impose harsh penalties on climate campaigners, with one activist jailed for six months for disrupting traffic during a 30-minute slow march. He said another activist had been sentenced to 27 months in prison in the UK. He also condemned harsh sentences in other countries, including Germany.

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By Ali Raza

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