31st Oct 2020

Belgian court sentences activists for EU protest

A Belgian court on Thursday (17 March) handed down a one-month suspended jail sentence and fines of €1,100 to each of ten Greenpeace activists for having duped security and staged a protest during an EU summit in 2009.

The protest was staged as a "warning to EU leaders" a few days ahead of a major climate change summit in Copenhagen. The activists managed to join an official motorcade and use the VIP entrance before being seized by security forces.

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"We delivered an important message to European leaders, asking them to save the climate. Not only did they ignore the message, but they also failed to protect the climate. Theirs was the real crime, but we are the ones given jail sentences," said French activist Jacques Vandenheede, a graphic designer and teacher living in Brussels.

All eleven activists were charged with using fake IDs, but one of them was cleared, as he held a valid press card.

"The court decided today that there is no defence for using false identification, even if it is in the public interest. So, for example, if a journalist wants to go undercover to help expose wrong-doing, they now face going to jail. That is wrong," said the director of the Belgian Greenpeace branch, Michael Genet.

The group is now considering an appeal. Although the activists will not go to jail, the penalty will remain on their individual records.

Another eleven Greenpeace activists are also facing a similar trial in Denmark for a protest they staged at a banquet hosted by the Danish queen during the Copenhagen climate summit. After dressing up as gala guests and suddenly displaying banners with "Politicians talk. Leaders act", four of them were arrested and held for 20 days.

Earlier this month, the Danish public prosecutor charged them with trespassing, falsification of documents, impersonating a public official and offences committed against the Danish queen.

In another precedent in Belgium, the green NGO faced organised crime charges after a series of protests against the local power giant Electrabel. Of the seven pending criminal investigations, six were dismissed.

Japanese and US courts have also given Greenpeace activists suspended jail sentences on similar grounds.

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