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UN slams 'severe' sentences for Just Stop Oil protesters, as Rishi Sunak hits back calling punishments 'entirely right'
21 November 2023, 15:38
The United Nations has slammed 'severe' sentences for Just Stop Oil activists, warning that the government is at risk of silencing public concerns about the environment.
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The UN warned that lengthy sentences for climate protesters could curb freedoms in the UK.
But Rishi Sunak hit out at the warning from the UN, stating it was "entirely right" to hand "tough sentences" to demonstrators who cause major disruption for the public and authorities.
Ian Fry, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, labelled the protesters "environmental human rights defenders".
He slammed the "severe" sentences, stating they had "rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association".
Fry raised specific concern at the sentences handed to a duo of Just Stop Oil campaigners who scaled the Dartford Crossing in October 2022.
Morgan Trowland, 40, and Marcus Decker, 34, were jailed for three years and two years and seven months respectively after scaling the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge - subsequently causing gridlock for two days as police were forced to close it to traffic.
Fry, in the letter sent to a UK Government representative back in August, said the sentences were "significantly more severe than previous sentences imposed for this type of offending in the past".
He added: "I am gravely concerned about the potential flow-on effect that the severity of the sentences could have on civil society and the work of activists, expressing concerns about the triple planetary crisis and, in particular, the impacts of climate change on human rights and on future generations."
Fry also questioned how the duo's sentences were "compatible with international norms", such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the UK has ratified.
Rishi Sunak defended the Government's approach to the protesters.
"Those who break the law should feel the full force of it," Sunak tweeted in response to the comments.
"It is entirely right that selfish protesters intent on causing misery to the hard-working majority face tough sentences.
"It's what the public expects and it's what we've delivered."
It comes after Trowland and Decker last month lost a bid to challenge their sentences at the Supreme Court.
In July, the protesters lost an appeal over what their lawyers said was the "extraordinary length" of their jail terms for the direct action on the crossing over the River Thames in south-east England.
In their ruling, the judges acknowledged the "long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience on conscientious grounds" and that the sentences handed to Trowland and Decker went "well beyond previous sentences imposed for this type of offending".
But Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr said the jail terms were "not excessive" and reflected "Parliament's will" under new laws enacted under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act last year.