More than 1,000 academics have now signed an open letter supporting a review of last week’s prison sentence given to three men who took part in anti-fracking protests.
The news comes as lawyers for Richard Roberts, Simon Roscoe Blevins and Rich Loizou, jailed for 15 and 16 months last week, have said they are to appeal against their sentences. (More details)
The letter, originally from academics at Sussex University, has now been signed by lecturers, researchers and professors at more than 70 institutions across the UK and abroad.
It also called for an inquiry into the declining space for civil society protests.
“We the undersigned are writing to express our growing concern about the shrinking space for communities and environmental defenders to engage in civil opposition to fracking developments in the UK.
The academics said:
“We need more, not less, space for action to confront unsustainable industrial practices that harm our communities and perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels.”
We join calls for a judicial review of this absurdly harsh sentence, and an inquiry into the declining space for civil society protest that it represents.”
The Sussex academics who started the letter, Andrea Brock, Judith Verweijen and Amber Huff, said:
“This avalanche of support sends a strong signal to the government, to those who have been unjustly imprisoned, and those who are continuing the struggle,”
“This ruling is part of converging trends related to both the government’s support of the fracking industry and the criminalisation of protest in the UK.
“These trends are reflected in, for example, recent legislative changes to the infrastructure act; attempts to classify fracking as “permitted development”; and the increased use of injunctions to pre-empt protests against fracking.
“We are very worried about these trends, and call upon other academics and everyone else who shares these concerns to speak out.”
One of the first signatories of the letter, Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute for Development Studies at University of Sussex, said:
“Fracking is unpopular and controversial around Europe and north America. Using draconian measures and imprisonment to curb peaceful protest is an infringement of basic rights and a blot on UK democracy.”
Professor Ian Scoones, also at the Institute of Development Studies, said:
“This harsh sentencing of environmental protestors suggests that civic space is closing. This is really worrying as non-violent protest is essential for democracy and sustainability.”
Professor Rosaleen Duffy, of the University of Sheffield, said:
“These anti fracking campaigners have given their time and energy to oppose fracking; they have been handed very harsh sentences which sends a negative signal to the public – that the ability to engage in peaceful environmental protest is being curtailed.
“I believe we should support the campaigners and their mission to defend the environment for the benefit of all humanity. Quite simply they should not have been jailed for their actions.”
On 3 October 2018, MEPs from across Europe stood together in the European Parliament to send their solidarity to the three campaigners.
Standing together in Strasbourg, cross-party MEPs from across Europe backed calls to #FreeTheThree.
Holding posters declaring “protecting the planet is not a crime,” MEPs put aside party political allegiances to jointly condemn the “declining space for civil society to effectively oppose the fracking industry in the UK”.
One of the MEPs, Keith Taylor, said:
“I am pleased so many of my colleagues join me in sending a united message of support to the brave heroes whose fight to protect our planet has robbed them of their liberty.”
“We are supposed to be, the theory goes, a mature liberal democracy that can accommodate dissent.
“The decision to jail peaceful fracking protesters blows that myth wide-open; authoritarianism has become a favourite tool of a minority government that lacks the public’s support to force through its environmentally destructive agenda by any other means.
“Any government that conspires with the dirty fossil fuel industry against its own people is rotten to the core.”