Europe is cracking down on climate protesters who glue themselves to roads and deface art, with law enforcement resorting to wiretaps and GPS tracking. The authorities are invoking legal powers often used against organised crime and extremist groups to prevent the activists from disrupting public order and damaging property.
The protests are led by two groups, the “Extinction Rebellion” and “The Last Generation”, who demand urgent government action against climate change. They have staged various forms of direct action, such as throwing soup at a Van Gogh painting, blocking traffic, spraying paint and cutting off oil pipes.
The activists say they turned to direct action after the failure of other protest strategies. They cite civil disobedience as a legitimate and effective way of bringing social change, as seen in the history of movements such as women’s suffrage and civil rights.
However, the governments in Germany, France and Britain have responded with a harsh crackdown, saying the protests are illegal and harmful. They have passed new surveillance and detention laws, making it easier to monitor, arrest and prosecute the protesters.
In Germany, state authorities have widely used preventative detention to stop people from protesting, including holding at least one person for as long as 30 days without charge. In France, an anti-terrorism unit has questioned some climate activists. In Britain, it is now illegal to lock or glue yourself to property.
The crackdown has raised concerns about the erosion of civil liberties and the right to protest in Europe. Some activists have also reported being harassed and intimidated by the police. They say they will not give up their fight for climate justice, despite the risks and challenges they face.