Tennis climate activists go a set down at Swiss court

Climate activists took over a Lausanne branch of Credit Suisse bank on November 22, 2018, to draw attention to the bank's climate policy and investments. They urged tennis star Roger Federer to cancel his sponsorship deal with the bank because of its fossil fuel investments. © Keystone / Martial Trezzini

Twelve climate activists who staged tennis matches inside a Credit Suisse bank in Lausanne, some dressed as Roger Federer, to highlight alleged environmental abuses have been convicted on appeal for trespassing.

This content was published on September 24, 2020 - 14:07

An appeals court in Renens, near Lausanne, reversed a January ruling that had acquitted the activists of trespassing at a branch of the Swiss bank on the grounds their actions were necessitated by the "imminent danger" of global warming.

Judge Christophe Maillard told the appeals court on Thursday that the danger of climate change was “imminent” but that the defendants could have used other means of protesting. He imposed fines of CHF100-150 ($108.15-$162.23) on each of the defendants.

The court ruled that the activists could have acted legally to denounce the bank's investments in fossil fuels, rather than illegally occupying the Lausanne branch.

The climate protest was carried out in November 2018 to raise awareness about alleged environmental abuses by Credit Suisse. Dressed in tennis whites and pretending to be Roger Federer, the protesters specifically wanted the Swiss tennis star to cancel his sponsorship deal with the bank because of its fossil fuel investments.

The dozen activists, mostly students, were originally fined for trespassing but challenged the penalty. A district court in Lausanne ruled in their favour in January 2020. The president of the court and sole judge Philippe Colelough deemed their action “necessary and proportionate” given the climate emergency.

The surprise January verdict had inspired other acts of civil disobedience by climate protesters and was seen as setting an important precedent for follow-up climate trials.

The protesters’ lawyers say they will appeal to Switzerland’s highest court and possibly to the European Court of Human Rights.

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