Open letter from UK academics: The harsh sentencing of anti-fracking campaigners sets a dangerous precedent

An open letter has been initiated by Andrea Brock, Lecturer in International Relations, Dr. Amber Huff, Research Fellow, and Dr Judith Verweijen, Lecturer in International Relations, at the Institute of Development Studies, expressing their serious concerns and condemning the prison sentences for three anti-fracking protectors in the UK.

The Independent has written about the letter, and this is what some people had to say about it:

“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 Ian Sccones, Institute for Development Studies

“This ruling is part of a wider trend of criminalisation of protest in the UK, reducing the scope to protest to mere symbolism. The ruling, by a judge with links to the oil and gas industry, lays bare the government’s unconditional and unapologetic support of the fracking industry, at immense social and ecological costs. We are very worried about these trends, and call upon academics and everyone else who shares these concerns to speak out.” (Andrea Brock, Lecturer in International Relations, and Dr. Amber Huff, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies  (and initiators of the open letter))

“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 Lyla Mehta, Institute for Development Studies

The letter can be found below, and here.

[This letter was originally titled ‘Open letter from University of Sussex academics: The harsh sentencing of anti-fracking campaigners sets a dangerous precedent’. Although signers from other organisations have always been welcome, given the overwhelming support, we have officially opened it up to academics from across the country (and international allies) who wish to express their concern]

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.

This week three non-violent campaigners opposing fracking were jailed for 15 to 16 months simply for ‘causing a public nuisance’ and for not expressing regret. Although others have received jail sentences in more recent times, this is the first time since 1932 that environmental defenders have been imprisoned for such long periods of time for staging a protest in the UK. It is also the first time ever that activists have been jailed for anti-fracking actions.

With fracking companies increasingly granted civil injunctions to prevent protest, the scope of protest is becoming more and more restricted, representing a threat to fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Fracking is controversial in the UK. According to government surveys conducted in 2017, only 16% of people support fracking development. Given the grave environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing and growing concerns about climate change, this is not surprising.

The ruling sets a worrying precedent, curtailing opportunities for the kind of public protests that have historically been effective in instituting the legal and policy changes that defend our environment for our future generations. 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 oppose this absurdly harsh sentence and join calls for an inquiry into the declining space for civil society protest that it represents.

Sincerely,

[For an up-to-date list of signers, and to sign this letter, please click here]

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