Just Stop Oil: Rishi Sunak hits back after United Nations slams 'severe' jail sentences for climate protesters

Downing St says one person delayed during the Just Stop Oil protest was a pregnant woman who needed medical help

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The Prime Minister has hit back at the United Nations after it criticised lengthy prison sentences for two Just Stop Oil protesters, warning the heavy-handed approach could deter people from trying to stand up for the environment.

The UN's special rapporteur on climate change and human rights, Ian Fry, has written to the UK government to query the sentences handed to Just Stop Oil campaigners who scaled the Dartford Crossing, unfurling a giant banner in October 2022. Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker were jailed for three years and two years and seven months respectively for public nuisance, after causing severe delays while police closed the bridge to traffic. The Guardian reports these were the longest sentences ever handed to non violent protesters in the UK.

Last month the pair lost a bid to challenge their sentences at the Supreme Court, after losing an earlier appeal in July over what their lawyers called the “extraordinary length” of their jail terms. 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”, PA reports. However, Lady Chief Justice Lady Carr said the jail terms were “not excessive” and reflected “Parliament’s will” under new laws enacted last year.

According to the Guardian, in one of his two unanswered letters Mr Fry wrote that he was "gravely concerned" about the potential flow-on effect the severe sentences could have on activists standing up for the environment, as well as "the impacts of climate change on human rights and on future generations". He also queried whether the sentences, and new rules under the Public Order Act lowering the bar for what counted as a disruptive protest, could be in breach of international human rights law.

Just Stop Oil protesters Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker scaled a bridge on the Dartford Crossing (Essex Police screengrab/PA)Just Stop Oil protesters Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker scaled a bridge on the Dartford Crossing (Essex Police screengrab/PA)
Just Stop Oil protesters Morgan Trowland and Marcus Decker scaled a bridge on the Dartford Crossing (Essex Police screengrab/PA)

He demanded that the government explain what steps have been taken "to ensure that non-governmental organisations, civil society organisations and all human rights defenders can carry out their peaceful work free from threat, violence, harassment or retaliation or any sort”.

On Tuesday (21 November) Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hit back at the UN's criticism. “Those who break the law should feel the full force of it and it’s entirely right that selfish protesters intent on causing misery to the hard-working majority should face tough sentences. That’s what the public expects and it’s what we’ve delivered," he said.

A Downing Street spokesperson added: “It’s up to them [UN] to explain and justify why they think that is an appropriate position given that this was an attempt to deliberately cause misery on individuals. I think Essex Police themselves said the disruption included a heavily pregnant woman who needed urgent medical help."

They continued: "While it’s not for us to comment on specific decisions of the courts, it’s entirely right that courts and police use the tough new powers that Parliament has granted and they have our full backing to do so.”

In a statement sent to NationalWorld, a Just Stop Oil spokesperson said just today nine slow marchers were arrested within 30 seconds of stepping onto the road, while others languished in prison without trial. Speaking from prison, Morgan Trowland, said: "The sentences given to myself and Marcus Decker demonstrate that our government is determined to protect those who are planning climate genocide. It's people vs oil and our government has signalled that it is on the side of oil".

Continued expansion of new oil and gas will bring about the wholesale environmental destruction, Just Stop Oil added. "We are not prepared to watch while the government continues to serve the interests of a few, to the detriment of everyone else."

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