Twelve climate activists who staged a tennis match on Credit Suisse premises in protest over the bank's fossil fuel investments have won their court case in Switzerland.
A district court in Lausanne acquitted the activists, many of them students, on Monday. They were on trial after refusing to pay a fine of CHF21,600 ($22,254) for trespassing.
Video footage from 2018 shows students dressed in tennis whites playing matches inside Credit Suisse branches.
They wanted Swiss tennis star Roger Federer to drop his sponsorship deal with the bank because of its fossil fuels investments.
The president of the court and sole judge Philippe Colelough deemed their action "necessary and proportionate" given the climate emergency. In his view, their stunt was "the only effective way to get the bank to respond" and "the only way to get the necessary publicity" from the media and the public.
Thousands of students have marched across Switzerland in recent months demanding stronger action on climate change. The financial sector has come under growing pressure to divest from fossil fuels.
Credit Suisse flags its climate change efforts
Credit Suisse, which had filed charges against the activists, has said it respects their cause but deemed their actions unacceptable. The bank announced in December that it will stop financing the development of new coal-fired power plants.
On Monday, the Swiss banking giant also published a fact sheet highlighting its actions on climate change. “Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges our planet is facing. Credit Suisse is committed to playing a critical role in the fight against this issue,” read a company statement
Federer continues to face criticism over his ties to Credit Suisse, including from Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg who retweeted the following Twitter message from activist platform 350.org:
The tennis player, who is currently preparing for the Australian Open in Melbourne, issued a statement in response over the weekend. “I take the impacts and threat of climate change very seriously, particularly as my family and I arrive in Australia amidst devastation from the bushfires," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
“As the father of four young children and a fervent supporter of universal education, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the youth climate movement, and I am grateful to young climate activists for pushing us all to examine our behaviours and act on innovative solutions.
“We owe it to them and ourselves to listen. I appreciate reminders of my responsibility as a private individual, as an athlete and as an entrepreneur, and I’m committed to using this privileged position to dialogue on important issues with my sponsors.”
Earlier on Monday, the Swiss tennis star announced he would make a donation to the victims of the Australian bushfires crisis.
The Swiss media said the verdict had considerable significance.
“For the activists it’s a double victory,” said Swiss public radio, SRF, in an analysis. “Not only were they acquitted, but they also attracted a lot of attention – even the New York Times reported on the trialexternal link”.
The trial in Lausanne showed that the climate movement is extremely well organised in its campaigning, it added. “Even if convicted, the activists had already achieved a lot with this trial.”
For the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), the verdict could permanently change the way civil disobedience is dealt with. “For the first time since the rise of the climate movement, a Swiss court has ruled in favour of activists and expressly no longer considers civil disobedience an inadmissible means of drawing attention to the climate crisis.”
Le Courrier in French-speaking Switzerland found the ruling courageous. “The Swiss financial centre could very well be shaking a little. In any case, the trial will have had the merit of drawing attention to the catastrophic effects of investments in fossil fuels. The fact that the judiciary is recognising the imminent danger of climate catastrophe gives a glimmer of hope for a radical political change that must take place now and everywhere in the world. The verdict has lent legitimacy to the climate activists.”