Prosecutor demands prison sentences after peaceful climate protest

They used their freedom of expression and now face a month in prison

Press release - February 17, 2011
Eleven people appeared today before the 60th Chamber of the Criminal Court of Brussels for having demonstrated peacefully for the climate during a European heads of state summit in Brussels in December 2009, just before a global climate meeting in Copenhagen. The public prosecutor asked for sentences of one month in prison and a €1100 fine per defendant. A verdict is expected on 17 March.

The charges concern offences of false documents and use of false documents and involves Belgian, French, Dutch and British nationals. During a peaceful demonstration carried out on 10 December 2009, the defendants entered the European Council grounds without being checked by the security forces.

Yet the documents that they carried would have made it possible to identify them and to understand their motivation. The demonstration aimed at reminding the heads of state, gathered for the last European Union summit before the Copenhagen meeting, of the climate emergency facing the planet.

For Greenpeace, there is no doubt that these legal proceedings are disproportionate and  symptomatic of a trend aiming to criminalise protest [1].

Michel Genet, executive director of Greenpeace Belgium, said: “If this tendency grows, organisations like ours risk to no longer be able to fully highlight injustices. The sentences demanded today by the public prosecutor are not proportionate to the facts. Freedom of expression is not being taken into account. It is incumbent upon the public prosecutor’s department to see that this fundamental right is respected.”

The trial that took place today follows a series of vexatious legal actions carried out against Greenpeace by different state prosecutors or industrial groups [2].

Michel added: “This is why we are remaining especially attentive to the way in which Belgium respects freedom of expression. This is not a trial of Greenpeace alone, but rather of all those citizens worried about the common good. We are shocked by the criminalisation of those who express their opinions openly and peacefully. This is symptomatic of a society paralysed by a fear of terrorism, and which in the end runs the risk of challenging its own democratic progress.”


[1] In Belgium, Greenpeace is subject to a complaint as an “association of criminals” lodged in seven judicial districts by Electrabel. At the present time, six districts have pronounced in favour of Greenpeace that there are no grounds for prosecution.

[2] Peaceful actions by Greenpeace have resulted in a criminalisation especially in Belgium, Japan, Denmark and Canada.


Christophe Marchand, lawyer for Greenpeace +32 486 32 22 88
Jack Hunter, press officer +32 476988584 +32 476988584