The roadblocks are the latest in a series of high-profile protests launched by activists Letzte Generation (Last Generation), a controversial group that has been described by German politicians as “climate terrorists” – Copyright AFP –
Hui Min NEO
Moritz Riedacher sat at a busy road junction with four other climate activists in southwestern Germany earlier this year, holding up traffic for hours, an action that earned him a jail sentence. But he remains undaunted.
This week, the 26-year-old journalism student stopped traffic again, this time in Berlin, where her fellow activists from the Letzte Generation group launched a campaign to demand tougher climate protection policies.
Riedacher, who has not yet been jailed pending appeals, is among the first in Germany to get a jail sentence for such protests.
“It is very, very difficult for me to process the verdict,” he told AFP, calling the four-month sentence he was given this month for the Heilbronn protest “disproportionate”.
“It is definitely urgent” that the government do more for climate protection, he said, pointing to the deadly 2021 floods in southern Germany.
“We cannot say that we continue as normal. Rather, we need to cause disruptions,” Riedacher said.
The Letzte Generation’s controversial tactics, from hunger strikes to throwing mashed potatoes on paintings in museums, have resulted in some German politicians describing the group as “climate terrorists.”
Over the last year, their roadside sit-ins with some members glued to the asphalt have become more and more frequent.
In turn, more activists are reaching out to the courts.
– ‘Coercion’ –
While most received fines for disrupting traffic or obstructing police work, the Heilbronn court upped the ante with months-long jail sentences.
For judge Julia Schmitt, the roadblock constituted “coercion”, a crime that carries up to three years in prison.
German police union deputy head Heiko Teggatz said Schmitt’s ruling should be used as an example.
“That is the only sign that these idiots understand,” Teggatz told the Welt newspaper, urging pretrial detention of up to 30 days followed by expedited trials resulting in stiff prison terms.
The protesters have not attracted the sympathy of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, and even the Greens opposed their junior coalition partner.
The Greens’ Finance Minister Robert Habeck called the group’s approach “misguided”, telling NTV news channel that “this protest does not win a majority for climate protection, but rather irritates people, divides to society and, in that sense, it is not a help”. contribution to climate protection.
Allegations have flown that the blockades hamper emergency services such as ambulances.
And scenes of frustrated motorists yelling at or dragging protesters accompanied much of the action.
But Riedacher argued that “at the same time, more people are showing solidarity, perhaps after having been moved by these harsh sentences.”
If the verdict against you is upheld, you could end up with a criminal record that could prove problematic in the future.
But he and other protesters, many of whom are young, are unfazed.
– ‘Pay the price’ –
Last month, in central Berlin, activist Irma Trommer was facing a judge on a similar charge of coercion.
Prosecutors argue that roadblocks force motorists to take certain actions — stop moving — against their will.
Different courts have weighed the imperatives of the right to protest against the charge of coercion, with varying results.
Whatever the verdict in her case, the 26-year-old actress vowed to continue to block traffic “because I understand that the climate crisis is now the crux of our entire future.”
Activists hold demonstrations with full knowledge of the possible consequences.
They not only receive training on how to stick to the asphalt, but also receive legal advice.
The essays themselves offer “a wide-ranging platform” to bring climate concerns to the public, Last Generation said on its website.
Activist Henning Jeschke stuck to a table during his trial.
After being led out of court with the table, he stopped traffic a month later with other activists, the table in tow.
Trommer’s father, Stefan Diefenbach-Trommer, told AFP he was “shocked” by his daughter’s arrival in court “not because of her action, but because she is being prosecuted for taking responsibility for the future of this planet.”
Like her daughter, she shrugged at the potential impact the legal proceeding could have on her livelihood.
“What good is a super resume or a great college degree if the world is no longer livable?” he said.
Trommer admitted she had been nervous on the eve of the trial, but added: “I’m ready to go to jail if I have to.”
“Having a criminal record is the lesser evil compared to what the climate crisis will bring. If that’s the price I have to pay, I’ll pay it,” he said.