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‘Green vandals’: where protesters face the harshest punishments in Europe?

origin 1Under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s right-wing government is cracking down on climate protest tactics. ©AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy is cracking down on everything from the English language to raves and synthetic meat to ChatGPT.

THE Right PMThe latest bogeyman is climate protesters.

On Tuesday (April 11), the Italian government announced plans to introduce heavy fines for people who damage monuments or cultural sites.

The sanctions are aimed at activists who have made headlines in recent weeks for their public stunts highlighting the climate crisis.

Why is Italy increasing penalties for criminal damages?

In early April, members of the climate activist organization Last Generation turned the waters of Rome’s La Barcaccia fountain black to draw attention to the country water crisis.

This is the latest in a long line of eye-catching protests, ranging from activists sticking to famous painting in Florence a throw paint at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Under the new law, actions like this would be punishable by fines ranging from €10,000 to €60,000. This will be in addition to existing fines and prison sentences for criminal damages.

Italy’s Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano says the fines will be used to cover the cleanup costs of such actions.

The bill also targets vandalism and anti-social activities by tourists in Italy, such as last year’s incident of an Australian riding a moped across Pompeii. He has yet to go through parliament.

Laws like this have been criticized as “weapon of mass distraction‘ from more pressing issues such as the energy crisis and the cost of living.

The UK is also cracking down on climate protest tactics

Through Europe, activists they have blocked roads and runways, targeted monuments and shut down oil refineries to draw public attention to the climate crisis.

The legal response has been more severe in the UK, which increased fines and prison sentences for those who deface public monuments last summer.

Damages of less than £5,000 (€5,675) were previously subject to a maximum prison sentence of three months. This has now been raised to 10 years.

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This was partly in response to the widespread attack of statues in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, but it also targets an ongoing wave of climate action.

UK also cracked down on ‘disruptives’ protests, giving the police broader powers to shut them down and arrest participants. In some incidents, protesters were detained for six months before trial due to a backlog of cases.

The recently announced public order bill criminalizes the protest tactic of individuals attaching themselves to others, objects or buildings to cause serious nuisance. The offense will carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

How do other European countries deal with climate protesters?

In Germany, disruptive climate activists have also faced harsher charges in recent months. Monk banned disruptive protests in December after activists glued themselves to the catwalks. Some mayors of German cities, however, did negotiated with activists to reach mutually acceptable solutions.

French ministers have branded the activists ‘eco-terrorists’ and arrested several people during ongoing protests against the tanks which have turned violent last month. But the maximum penalties for disruptive activism have not always been imposed in France.

Six Final Revolution protesters who blocked roads during the 2022 Tour de France received a shared fine of 500 euros instead of the maximum two years in prison.

In BelgiumProtesters who targeted Johannes Vermeer’s painting ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in the Netherlands in October were sentenced to two months in prison with one month suspended.

Why are climate activists staging disruptive protests?

Protest groups usually hold peaceful protests and then escalate break if their requests are not met. This sometimes works: In 2019, the UK parliament declared a climate emergency after two weeks of protests in central London by Extinction Rebellion. Outages also increased in sync with the escalation climate crisiswith many activists feeling they have few options left to get the attention of policy makers

Many officials have acknowledged the role activists play in raising awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. The UN secretary-general recently gave activists an official advisory role, after appointing seven of them activists from around the world to the United Nations Youth Advisory Group.