Government Targets Italian Environmental Activists

The Italian government announced in early April its intention to impose heavy fines on people who damage monuments or cultural sites. Sanctions that target environmental activists, very present in the news.

Climate protesters risk fines of up to 60,000 euros for damaging monuments or cultural sites in Italy. Under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy is cracking down on everything from English language and raves to synthetic meat and ChatGPT. Today in the crosshairs of the President of the Council: climate activists.

On Tuesday April 11, the Italian government announced its intention to impose heavy fines on people who damage monuments or cultural sites. These sanctions target activists who in recent weeks have made headlines for their public actions aimed at highlighting the climate crisis.

Why is Italy Increasing Fines For Criminal Damage?

In early April, members of the climate activist organization Ultima Generazione (“Last Generation”) blackened the water in Rome’s La Barcaccia fountain to draw attention to the coronavirus crisis. the water that is rampant in the country.

It’s the latest in a long line of protests that have drawn attention, from activists sticking to a famous painting in Florence to paint-throwing at Milan’s La Scala opera house.

Under the new law, such actions will be subject to fines ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 euros. These fines will be in addition to the fines and imprisonment already provided for criminal damage.

The Italian Minister of Culture, Gennaro Sangiuliano, specifies that the fines will be used to cover the costs of cleaning up these acts.

The bill also targets vandalism and anti-social activity by tourists in Italy, such as the incident last year when an Australian man drove through Pompeii on a moped. The bill still needs to be passed by Parliament.

Laws like this have been criticized as a “weapon of mass distraction” from more pressing issues such as the energy and cost of living crisis.

UK Also Cracks Down on Climate Protest Tactics

Across Europe, activists have blocked roads and airstrips, targeted monuments and disrupted oil refineries to draw public attention to the climate crisis.

The legal response has been the harshest in the UK: last summer the country increased fines and prison terms for people who deface public monuments.

Damage of less than £5,000 (5,675 euros) previously carried a maximum penalty of three months in prison. This sentence was increased to 10 years.

The move was taken partly in response to the widespread targeting of statues during the 2020 “Black Lives Matter” protests, but also in response to the current wave of climate action.

The UK has also cracked down on “disruptive” protests, giving police broader powers to stop them and arrest participants. In some cases, protesters have been detained for six months before being tried due to a backlog of cases.

The recently announced Public Order Bill criminalizes the protest tactic of attaching oneself to other people, objects or buildings to cause serious disturbance. This offense is punishable by a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both.

How do Other European Countries Treat Climate Protesters?

In Germany, disruptive climate activists have also faced tougher charges in recent months. Munich banned disruptive protests in December after activists glued themselves to airstrips. Some German mayors, however, negotiated with the activists to reach mutually acceptable solutions.

French ministers have called the activists “eco-terrorists” and arrested several people during tank protests that escalated last month. But maximum sentences for disruptive activists have not always been handed down in France.

Six Final Revolution protesters who blocked roads during the 2022 Tour de France have been sentenced to a joint fine of 500 euros instead of the maximum two years imprisonment.

In Belgium, protesters who targeted Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in the Netherlands in October were sentenced to two months in prison, including one month suspended.

Why Are Climate Advocates Organizing Disruptive Protests?

Protest groups typically stage peaceful demonstrations, then escalate unrest if their demands are not met. It works sometimes: in 2019, the UK parliament declared a climate emergency following two weeks of protests organized by Extinction Rebellion in central London. Disruptions have also increased in step with the escalating climate crisis, with many activists feeling they have few options left to get the attention of policy makers.

Many officials have acknowledged the role activists have played in raising awareness of the urgency of the climate crisis. The UN Secretary-General recently gave activists an official advisory role, after appointing seven activists from around the world to the UN Youth Advisory Group.

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Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.