The long sentences given to two Just Stop Oil protesters for climbing the M25 bridge over the Thames are a potential breach of international law and risk silencing public concerns about the environment, a UN expert said.
In a strongly worded intervention, Ian Fry, the UN rapporteur for climate change and human rights, said he was “particularly concerned” about the sentences, which were “far worse than of previous sentences imposed for this type of offense in the past”.
He said: “I am very concerned about the potential impact of the severity of the sentences on civil society and the work of activists, expressing concerns about the triple crisis of the planet and, in particular, the effects of climate change on human rights and future generations.”
In October last year, Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland stopped traffic for almost 40 hours after they climbed the cables supporting the Queen Elizabeth II suspension bridge in Dartford, Kent, in a protest in support of Just Stop Oil climate activist group.
The bridge, one of the UK’s busiest, is where the M25 motorway that circles London crosses the Thames.
Both men were convicted of causing a public disturbance, with Decker imprisoned for two years and seven months and Trowland for three years. They are the longest sentences handed down to non-violent protesters in the UK.
Noting Decker and Trowland’s rights to peaceful protest, Fry asked the UK government to explain “why, given the current climate crisis, the Public Order Act needs to be introduced and passed and how the Public Order Act and the sentencing of Mr. Decker and Mr Trowland is in accordance with international norms and standards”, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
He asked the ministers to show “what steps are being taken … to ensure that non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and all human rights defenders can do their peaceful work without’ y threats, violence, harassment or retaliation or any kind”.
The UK government did not respond to Fry’s letter, which was sent on 15 August. A letter sent on 22 December calling for clarifications on how the provisions of the Public Order Act can be reconciled with international human rights law, signed by Fry and four other rapporteurs, also remains that went unanswered, Fry’s letter said.
The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil said: “Our politicians plan to kill countless millions of souls, and destroy the rights and freedoms we are trying to achieve. That is the brutal truth of climate collapse, explained by Dr Ian Fry.
“If the government is willing to ignore a letter from the UN what chance will they listen to ordinary people writing to their MPs. We must go to the streets, we must resist and stand up to the political prisoners who imprisoned for defending their future – slow march with us in London, from Trafalgar Sq, London – 12 noon every day.