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19 Jan 2023, 13:47
Carolina Kyllmann

Experts reject tougher penalties for climate activists’ civil disobedience in Germany

Clean Energy Wire

A group of experts largely rejected calls for tougher penalties for climate activists who stage acts of civil disobedience like motorway blockades or artwork attacks.  In response to a motion by the opposition conservative CDU/CSU party group calling for harsher penalties, the Legal Affairs Committee of the parliament heard from experts who said tougher penalties are unnecessary and the existing legal means are sufficient. Johannes Franke, an assessor from Hamburg, said the Federal Constitutional Court's ruling that the state has an obligation to protect its citizens from the impacts of climate change meant that the government was currently acting unlawfully by violating climate law, and that activists were exercising their fundamental rights to demand that the state abide by its own rules as well as the constitution.

Katrin Höffler, a criminal law expert from the University of Leipzig, said that criminal policy should be evidence-based and rational, and not used because it is the state's "sharpest sword". She added that tougher penalties are neither necessary nor justified in terms of crime prevention, so it was essential to resist the temptation to satisfy some of the public's demands in the short term by introducing new, harsher penalties. Thomas Fischer, former presiding judge at the Federal Court of Justice, said legislation for specific occasions should be avoided, especially in criminal law, and added that existing law already provided sufficient means in every respect to punish unlawful demonstrations. Deputy federal chair of the police union (GdP), Sven Hüber welcomed the discussion, but said that it was important to prevent disproportionate, unsuitable or unnecessary changes - especially tightening - to the law.

Following protests by the climate action group “Last Genreation” (Letzte Generation), which saw activists block streets and target works of art in museums, the CDU/CSU parliamentary group had called for harsher punishments. The climate activists' spectacular actions have caused a stir in Germany and provoked mainly negative reactions from politicians, the media and the general public.

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