At least 18 peaceful environmental protesters were sent to jail this year, while 10 spent Christmas Day behind bars.
As the climate crisis becomes more serious, activists have been detained for blocking roads, disrupting court proceedings, and climbing on top of aeroplanes to raise awareness about the escalating emergency.
Campaigners fear that their harsh treatment is part a concerted effort of the state to crackdown on the right for protest. The controversial police, sentencing, courts bill was criticized by human rights advocates as a dangerous power grab.
Ten Insulate Britain members spent Christmas in prison serving contempt of court sentences for violating injunctions that prohibited them from protesting roadblocks. They were protesting the UK’s lack of insulation. Seven more are serving suspended sentences.
According to Extinction Rebellion at least eight other environmental activists were sentenced to prison in 2021 for contempting court actions. This included livestreaming from court and gluing their feet to the dock.
Six environmental protesters occupying a tunnel in London near Euston station to protest the HS2 high-speed train link narrowly avoided jail sentences when charges were dismissed.
Insulate Britain protesters in jail have sent unrepentant messages to their prison cells.
I’m locked up in my cell for 23-33 and a quarter hours each day, and I miss my family, my friends, and I miss nature,” Oliver Roc, 41, said. He is currently serving a four month sentence at HMP Thameside, south-east London.
However, when I think about the future I see, I feel a deep conviction. [what]We have done it right, and this is the best place.
Insulate Britain activists stopped major roads in London and surrounding areas, including at the port of Dover and in Manchester, during a campaign of disruptive protests that began in September. Their tactics angered motorists, and they were harshly criticized by politicians who called them selfish.
The activists pledged to continue until the government agreed that all Britain’s homes would be insulated by 2030.
Dr Diana Warner, 62 years old, is the latest to be arrested. She is a retired GP in Bristol.
Warner claimed she was finally falling asleep after a string of activism that included being found not guilty of an Extinction Rebellion 2019 action at Canary Wharf and then skipping her contempt trial to block a train heading for the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire.
She said that the first thing she thinks about is not the climate and environment emergency. “I know Ive done my best, and can take a little rest,” she said to the Guardian from HMP Bronzefield, Ashford, Surrey.
It seems strange to be in prison for climate activism. It seems strange, but it seems like the right place to go in such a chaotic world.
Ben Taylor, 26 years old, is currently serving the longest sentence. After telling judges that he would block the highway whenever possible, Taylor was sentenced to six months in prison.
He said that life at Thameside was mostly boring. Although I was initially treated rough, I felt vulnerable, alienated and powerless. But, I am now on the right track and have made some friends. It’s not so bad for me.
James Brown, a Paralympian, was released this month from jail for gluing himself on a plane during an XR action in 2019. He said that it was important for those who spend Christmas in prison to remember that they did the right things.
Brown, who spent 10 consecutive weeks in Wandsworth prison in London said that while it was difficult for him and his family at Christmas, it was necessary. Most of the positive and radical changes we have seen were the result of peaceful protest and civil disobedience. This is what we need to do to address the climate crisis and the ecological crisis. In the end, resisting is complicit.
Emmanuelle Andrews is the Liberty policy and campaigns manager. She told the Guardian that protest is not a gift from government. It is a fundamental right that has been attacked for many years by a government that wants untouchability. The police’s brutal treatment of protestors in the last year is consistent with a long-standing trend that has been observed for several years by a government trying to silence protestors.
Both the police and government have ample powers to detain or criminalize protestors. The policing legislation is an attempt to extend these powers. It is an attack upon the rights of anyone who believes in a cause, from climate activists to grieving family members looking for justice and answers.