Good news from Denmark: the Red Carpet trial has finally ended, with a victory for freedom of expression - the Danish court clearly recognised the place that peaceful protest needs to occupy in a democracy, and the importance of standing up for what you believe in.
The “Red Carpet 11” – Joris, Nora, Juan, Christian, Morton, Victor, Dima, Melanie, Guilhem, Thomas and Anders – received suspended sentences instead time in prison, fines or deportation from Denmark.
There’s a great sense of relief from the Red Carpet team, but it would do them an injustice to say that they can now move on with their lives – these are not the kind of people who sit still for long, and you can bet that they’ve been busy doing plenty of other things in their personal and professional lives over the last 20 months.
In December 2009, on the last evening of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, three Greenpeace activists walked up the red carpet at a state banquet where 120 world leaders were enjoying themselves. When they unfurled a banner that read “Politicians Talk, Leaders Act”, all three were pounced on and arrested. In the end, four activists, Nora, Juan, Christian and Joris spent 20 days in prison, over Christmas and New Year, before they and another seven activists were charged.
Jump forward to August 2011 and to Friday’s court appearance in Copenhagen, where the public prosecutor called for 60-day suspended jail sentences for 10 of the activists (one faced 70 days), plus fines, and asked for the deportation for the eight non–Danish resident defendants and a ban on returning to the country for six years.
But the court saw took a different view – two of the judges made clear that they considered the activists to have carried out a peaceful act of political protest, and that they acknowledged the debate-generating nature of the protest and its political context at that moment in time, ie the failing Copenhagen climate summit.
As a result, the 11 Greenpeace Red Carpet activists each received a 14-day suspended sentence for their peaceful protest, and were neither deported or fined – considerably less than the harsh punishment the Danish government had been looking for.
All eleven were found guilty of guilty of trespass, falsification of documents, and impersonating a public official, but were cleared of having committed an offence against the Queen, an obscure law that attracted derision in Denmark back in March, when it was dusted off and approved for use by Denmark’s justice minister.
Sadly, Denmark has wasted time and money trying to prosecute peaceful activists when the real crime committed in Copenhagen in December 2009 was the failure by 120 heads of state to seize the day and agree to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty that would avert climate chaos. Instead, they got on their jets and flew away.
December 2011 is now drawing close, and many of these leaders, or their successors, will be present in Durban, South Africa for COP17. Will these world leaders take strong and urgent action to rescue the climate, or will be en excuse for another party?