Statewatch News online: Denmark: Greenpeace verdict introduces collective punishment in Danish law

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Denmark: Greenpeace verdict introduces collective punishment in Danish law

In a court verdict on Friday, 10 June, the environmental organisation Greenpeace Nordic was sentenced to pay 30.000 Danish kroner (4.000 €) for being the responsible organisation behind a group of activists, who had climbed to the top of the headquarters of the Danish Agriculture Council in the centre of Copenhagen on 13 October 2003. Having barricaded the entrance with heavy chains and locks they hoisted a banner denouncing the use of GMO food.

When the police came the activists peacefully went to the police station and were all released shortly after. The activists have each accepted a fine of 1.500 Danish kroner for entering the building without permission. Their climbing equipment has been confiscated.

The new development came when Greenpeace Nordic were charged as being responsible for the action. This was made possible because the Danish Penal Code (§ 306 (1)) was amended in 2002 to follow the recommendations of the UN and EU provisions on fighting terrorism. In this particular case Greenpeace have been sentenced according to a paragraph, which can hold a company or organisation responsible for its members' individual acts.

The General Secretary of Greenpeace Nordic, Mr. Lennart Daléus, said afterwards:

"The fine is big for an organisation like ours, who only funds our work through voluntary contributions from individuals. This verdict shows with great clarity that the politicians and others, who expressed concern that the terror law could also be used to other things than to deal with international terrorism, were right. The verdict is a break with the fundamental principals in a democratic society where the individual is responsible for their own actions. This case means that collective punishment have been introduced in Denmark."

Since Greenpeace Nordic were charged (see Statewatch News Online, May 2005, see below) the police argued that this was not a terror case, and that they only wanted Greenpeace sentenced for entering private property and thereby sending a signal that can deter other organisations from doing the same. In court the public attorney asked for Greenpeace to be fined 100.000

The position of the police have during the whole case been questioned by the defence with reference to the fact that the amendment made this particular paragraph broader only to follow the international decisions in UN and EU regarding terror, and that Greenpeace Nordic would not have been charged had it not been because of this change.

The defence lawyer, Mr. Steen Bech, told Statewatch:

"I think that a lot of the politicians now feel that this is an unpleasant case and that this use of the amendment was not what they intended. This amendment is a very fundamental change of the Penal Code, which is being sneaked into the law, this way."

Statewatch News Online, May 2004

Greenpeace charged under anti-terror laws

The Danish branch of Greenpeace, the international environmental campaigning organization, was charged yesterday (11 May 2005) under laws adopted to implement UN and EU law on the financing of acts of terrorism.

The acts in question occurred on 13 October 2003 when Greenpeace activists staged a protest against the widespread use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in animal feed on Danish farms. The protest took place outside of and on the roof of the Agricultural Council in the centre of Copenhagen which is opposite of the famous Tivoli amusement park. In front of the building Greenpeace had set-up an information stand and was handing out balloons to children with a text saying "GMO - no thanks!". Then, as part of the protest, 15 activists entered the council headquarters, went up on the roof and unfolded a banner. Mr. Dan Belusa, Nordic GMO coordinator for Greenpeace, explained to Statewatch that:

"Nothing was broken during the event and the activists went peacefully with the police to the station where they were questioned and released soon after. Later they were charged with disturbing the peace (under article 264, 1.1. of the Penal Code), an offence that normally gives a fine of a few thousand Danish kr."

But now prosecutors have extended the charges to include Greenpeace as an organisation. This is the first use of the amended penal code which was changed in order to comply with the UN Convention on the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the UN Security Council Resolutions adopted after September 11 2001 (which were incorporated into EU law in December 2001). The powers in question oblige member states to enact laws that allow for the prosecution of organisations and companies in connection with acts of terrorism. The Danish Parliament adopted the neceassry amendments to the penal code in the spring of 2002. Before they came into effect organisations and companies could only be charged for illegal acts committed for economic gain. Steen Bech, a Greenpeace lawyer, says:

"It is this change which makes it possible for the police lawyers to bring charges against Greenpeace as an organisation. It is unheard of that the terror law in this way hits organisations that build their work on peaceful, non-violent methods. Actions of the kind Greenpeace activists perform are based on honourable principles of civil disobedience, where each individual takes responsibility for their own actions. There should be no collective punishment."

Mads Christensen, Greenpeace Denmark's head of campaigns, told Statewatch that he had no idea about of the size of the punishment awaiting the organisation:

"Since there is no precedent for such a situation we expect the police advocate to do one of two things: either to ask for a specific punishment at the opening of the trial, or leave it up to the court to decide."

Christensen is concerned that this case could scare Greenpeace activists and act as a deterrent against future actions - despite the fact that environmental problems are getting worse.

In the Danish Parliament, Ms. Line Barfod (MP), legal affairs speaker for Enhedslisten (The Red-Green Alliance) said:

"Earlier, when we warned against the consequences of the terror laws being able to be used against people other than terrorists, we were told we were inventing bogey-men. Unfortunately it now seems that the laws are being used against peaceful actions."

Ms. Barfod has raised the principal issue of the use of not just this part of the terror law, but also the whole range of amendments of the Penal Code and other laws, which followed upon 9/11, with the Minister of Justice, Ms. Lene Espersen.

The police are now saying that the charges have nothing to do with the terror laws, a position flatly rejected by Greenpeace.

See also: Spain tries Greenpeace Five (Guardian, link)

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