In a world built by plutocrats, the powerful are protected while vengeful laws silence their critics | Georges Monbiot

WWhy are peaceful protesters treated like terrorists, while actual terrorists (particularly on the far right, and notably in the United States) often remain shielded from the law? Why, in the UK, can you now potentially receive a longer sentence for “public nuisance» – non-violent civil disobedience – than for rape or manslaughter? Why are ordinary criminals released early making space in overcrowded prisons, only for the space to be filled with political prisoners: people peacefully trying to defend a habitable planet?

There is a simple explanation. It was clearly expressed by a former analyst at the US Department of Homeland Security. “There aren’t many companies coming forward and saying, ‘I wish you would do something about these right-wing extremists.'” The disproportionate policing of environmental protest, new crimes and extreme penalties, the campaigns of extrajudicial persecution by governments around the world are not, as politicians constantly tell us, designed to protect society. They are a response to corporate lobbying.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, published the type of bulletin one might expect to see writings about Sisi’s regime in Egypt or Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But this concerned the United Kingdom. He noted that draconian anti-protest laws, massive penalties and court rulings barring protesters from explaining their motivations to juries crush “fundamental freedoms” here. He highlighted that until recently it was very rare “for members of the public to be jailed for peaceful protest in the UK”. Now you can get six months just for walking.

He also highlighted the scandalous treatment of people convicted of no crime. Peaceful environmental defenders are detained on bail for up to two years, subjected to electronic tagging, GPS tracking and curfews, and deprived of their social lives and political rights. This is one of many examples of process as punishment. Before you’ve even been tried, let alone found guilty, your life is shattered.

This explosive report was ignored by almost all media outlets. You shouldn’t be surprised. With few exceptions, the media belong to the political-corporate complex that demanded these laws. All over the world, the billionaire press has been demonize peaceful activists and lobby for ever more oppressive measures against those who challenge destructive industries.

No matter how absurd the media’s hyperboles are, governments are rushing to respond to their demands. In Germany, the authorities have launched a organized crime investigation in the Letzte Generation environmental protest movement. Italy is use anti-mafia laws against an allied group of environmental defenders, Ultima Generazione. In France And United States, peaceful green protesters are being labeled and treated as terrorists. These governments must know that they are not dealing with organized crime, the mafia or terrorists. But by using these labels, they hope to isolate and ostracize peaceful protesters while justifying a wildly disproportionate legal response.

Police officers carry away a Letzte generation protester in front of the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, October 2023. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

In many cases, laws are proposed or written by corporate-funded lobbying groups posing as think tanks, such as Policy exchange in the United Kingdom and the American Legislative Exchange Council in the United States. These groups create legal models to crush protest movements, then lobby for their adoption all over the world. This tactic proved frighteningly effective.

In the United Kingdom, the government truncated parliamentary control to force extreme measures to the law books. Judges jailed environmental activists for trying to explain to the jury why they did what they did. In 2023, two peaceful protesters who unfurled a banner on a bridge, Marcus Decker and Morgan Trowland, received sentences of two and a half and three years: the longest of their kind in modern history. Decker, a German citizen living with his partner in the United Kingdom, risks expulsion when he is released. There is nothing fair or proportionate about this.

Worse still, public authorities and businesses have been abandon injunctions on the people who demonstrated and, moreover, on those they believe could demonstration. As the UN rapporteur pointed out, many peaceful protesters are “punished twice for the same act”: they face both criminal trials and civil injunctions. Simply being named on an injunction exposes you to potentially massive financial penalties, as the people named – the defendants – usually have to pay the necessary sums. plaintiffs’ legal costs. If defendants contest the injunction, the costs could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. pound sterling. I have been contacted by several people who have never committed a crime and told me they are ruined by being on these lists. These costs are actually fines that can be imposed by public or private organizations on anyone who disagrees with them. This amounts to punishing the poor by the rich. Companies become, in effect, prosecuting authorities.

Worse still, the police can also issue a restraining order against peaceful activists, even if they have done nothing to break the law. Last year, Surrey Police issued an “anti-social behavior order” to Colin Shearn, a retired business executive, on the grounds that he had asked “endless questions about air traffic” to the Farnborough Airport. His questions, letters, and requests for information were polite and thoughtful, but that apparently counts for nothing. Coincidentally, three weeks after its most effective critic was silenced by this injunction, Farnborough Airport announced plans to double the number of weekend flights.

Why is all this happening? Because the UK, US and many other countries have become closed workshops run by unions of plutocrats. This political capture also explains why, despite the alleged perversions of justice which have ruined the lives of so many sub-postmasters, none of the Senior officials at the Post Office or its contracting companies were held responsible. This explains why, in the United States, you can be imprisoned for possessing a few grams of drugs, while no pharmaceutical executive has been sent to prison for trafficking in opioids that have killed 800,000 people. This explains why no company in the UK has yet been prosecuted for tax evasion under the Criminal Finances Act 2017, and why Rishi Sunak’s government has repeatedly sabotaged Parliament’s attempts to repress serious white-collar crime. The powerful are protected while the weak are exposed to ever more inventive laws.

Inequality requires oppression. The more wealth and power become concentrated, the more those who challenge the rich and powerful must be hunted down and crushed. In other words, economic inequality is reflected in inequality before the law. You can do without all the other indicators of democracy. The best measure of the health of a political system is who is being prosecuted.

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