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UN expert defends climate protesters disrupting traffic, attacking famous artwork

A United Nations expert is calling for government authorities to step aside and allow global climate activists to continue protesting using disruptive actions.

A United Nations expert issued a report Wednesday vigorously defending climate activists whose protests have involved blocking traffic and attacking famous artwork worldwide.

The report – authored by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Environmental Defenders Michael Forst – stated that government leaders should listen to activists who engage in disruptive actions, rather than punish them for law violations. Forst's report further characterized recent government actions cracking down on climate protests as "repression," and a threat to democracy and human rights.

"The repression that environmental activists who use peaceful civil disobedience are currently facing in Europe is a major threat to democracy and human rights," the report states. "The environmental emergency that we are collectively facing, and that scientists have been documenting for decades, cannot be addressed if those raising the alarm and demanding action are criminalized for it."

"The only legitimate response to peaceful environmental activism and civil disobedience at this point is that the authorities, the media, and the public realize how essential it is for us all to listen to what environmental defenders have to say," it adds.

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According to Forst, who was elected the first U.N. special rapporteur on environmental defenders in 2022, under the 1998 Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, peaceful environmental protests are protected as a "legitimate exercise of the public’s right to participate in decision-making."

In the report, he outlined how government authorities worldwide are increasingly restricting certain forms of climate protests in a "stark increase in repression."

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He noted that eco activists are often compared to terrorists: counterterrorism laws are being used against environmental protesters, police use water cannons and pepper spray to disperse "peaceful" climate protests, protesters are arrested, and protesters who blocked traffic have received prison sentences of up to three years.

"In several countries, environmental activism has been labeled as a potential terrorist threat. Legislation is increasingly being used to stifle environmental protest through the introduction of new offenses, harsher sentences, and bans on particular forms of protest," Forst states in the report.

"By categorizing environmental activism as a potential terrorist threat, by limiting freedom of expression and by criminalizing certain forms of protests and protesters, these legislative and policy changes contribute to the shrinking of the civic space and seriously threaten the vitality of democratic societies," he continues. "They also provide the legal basis for the repression of environmental defenders by law enforcement."

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The report highlights specific examples of alleged repression in France, Northern Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Finland.

"These trends give rise to the impression that the authorities’ intention is primarily to intimidate people from engaging in protest," Forst adds.

He then called for nations to address the root causes of the protests by rapidly transitioning from fossil fuels to green energy alternatives. The top U.N. official also calls for the media, lawmakers, courts and law enforcement to tolerate environmental protests.

Forst's report comes as left-wing groups like the global Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil in the U.K., Riposte Alimentaire in France, Ultima Generazione in Italy, Restore Wetlands in Sweden, Stopp Oljeletinga in Norway, and Declare Emergency in the U.S. continue to organize civil disobedience protests worldwide. The increasing number of such actions have sparked widespread criticism.

For example, in January, Riposte Alimentaire activists threw soup at the famous "Mona Lisa" painting in Paris. Similar protests have included actions in which activists defaced Vincent van Gogh’s "Sunflowers" in London, a Monet painting in Stockholm, and Sandro Botticelli’s "Primavera" in Florence.

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