UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hit back at criticism from the United Nations over harsh sentences for climate protesters.
Ian Fry, the UN’s special rapporteur for climate change and human rights, sent a letter to the UK government in August warning that lengthy jail time for activists could curb freedoms in the country.
The special rapporteur raised concerns about sentences given to Just Stop Oil activists who scaled a suspension bridge in Dartford, Kent in October 2022.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Sunak defended the government’s approach saying it was “entirely right” to hand out “tough sentences” to protesters who cause major disruption.
Just Stop Oil activists jailed after scaling suspension bridge
Two Just Stop Oil campaigners were jailed earlier this year after climbing the cables supporting the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge in Kent, causing gridlock for 40 hours after police had to close the crossing to traffic.
Marcus Decker, 34, was jailed for two years and seven months and Morgan Trowland, 40, for three years for causing a public nuisance.
They lost an appeal hearing in July where judges acknowledged the “long and honourable tradition of civil disobedience on conscientious grounds”. They also said that the sentences handed to Trowland and Decker went “well beyond previous sentences imposed for this type of offending”.
Lady Chief Justice, Lady Carr defended the jail terms saying the sentences were “not excessive”, adding that they met the “legitimate” aim of deterring others from such offending.
Last month, the two campaigners were refused permission to challenge their sentences in the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court.
Decker and Trowland’s sentences were “significantly more severe than previous sentences imposed for this type of offending in the past”, Fry said.
“I am gravely concerned about the potential flow-on effect that the severity of the sentences could have on civil society and the work of activists, expressing concerns about the triple planetary crisis and, in particular, the impacts of climate change on human rights and on future generations,” his letter reads.
Sunak responds to UN criticism over long sentences
Fry also said that the UK’s new Public Order Act – which came into force in July and includes measures aimed at preventing disruptive protests – “appears to be a direct attack on the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly”.
The letter questioned whether it is “compatible with international norms” such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Those who break the law should feel the full force of it,” Sunak tweeted in response to Fry’s comments.
“It’s entirely right that selfish protestors (sic) intent on causing misery to the hard-working majority face tough sentences.
“It’s what the public expects and it’s what we’ve delivered.”