How to fight governments restricting climate activism

From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

How to fight governments restricting climate activism Governments across the world are treating climate activism with violence, anti-protest laws, and prison sentences. But we can resist, writes Danny Chivers.


They gave Australian activist Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco 15 months in prison. She was in a climate protest blocking Sydney’s Harbour Bridge. There is an appeal against her sentence in March 2023. A group of Coco’s supporters came together in front of Parliament House, Canberra, on 5 December 2022. LEO BILD/ALAMY

Protest works. In recent years, protests in Armenia, India, Sudan, Chile, Bangladesh, and Serbia, and there are more, have changed governments or forced changes in big policies.

But authoritarian governments are working against protest, including climate activism, with violence. There are new anti-protest laws to put protesters in prison, even in liberal countries like the UK and Australia.

A recent report by the human-rights monitor CIVICUS says this seems to be part of a bigger global attack on protest rights with a rise in authoritarian far-right governments.

Aarti Narsee is one of the report’s authors. He says, ‘People are facing very serious challenges like the cost of living and the climate crisis, and big threats to their rights by governments and other far-right groups. Governments are not taking action on these crises in a way that would help. They are stopping protest.

‘These government actions seem to affect excluded groups the most. For example, in Poland and Hungary, they target LGBTQI+ campaigners, and Black protesters face tougher police and legal action in countries like Belgium and the UK.’

In 2021, CIVICUS recorded the use of protest bans, excessive legal charges, harassment, and violence against environmental activists and land defenders around the world.

Climate activism is not new

So, why are they taking more action against protests now? It’s nothing new, after all.

In the UK, for example, activists blocked roads, shut construction sites, and occupied power stations for many years. They were part of successful protests and stopped big road expansions, new coal power stations, and a third Heathrow airport runway in the 1990s and early 2000s.

It’s possible that as the climate crisis gets worse, the public are supporting environmental protesters more. The climate protests in the Global North are also making stronger links with Southern and Indigenous movements and are now more outspoken about the need for changes in the system.

All of this may be a bigger threat to governments and elites that benefit from the system.

What can we do to resist?

First, we must keep talking about and complaining about excessive police powers and other actions against protesters. Governments may have stronger and stronger powers. But public opinion can still influence them.

In 2009 the Camp for Climate Action took place in London. There were fewer police than in previous years. This was after public anger about aggressive police action at earlier demonstrations, including the police killing of newspaper seller Ian Tomlinson. Protesters have often found creative ways to get around repressive laws, as in Turkey’s Gezi Park in 2013. Or they have exposed excessive or crazy laws by breaking the laws in large numbers. This can reduce the use of violent government actions and build support to reduce tough protest laws in the future.

As the risk to protesters increases, support is more important. People can’t always be involved but they can speak up to defend the right to protest. They can support campaign groups like CIVICUS, Liberty, Amnesty. or Human Rights Watch. They can support protesters on trial. They can write letters to activists in prison.

It was always a struggle for the right to protest freely and it is never guaranteed. But people around the world are defending that right in the most powerful way they can – by protesting.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)