Five Extinction Rebellion activists appeared at Southwark Crown Court this morning for a trial set to last at least a week. On 13th of August 2019, the ‘Snowflakes’ affinity group took part in a worldwide protest against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, attacks on Indigenous protectors, and the Bolsonaro government’s erosion of Indigenous rights.
Red paint was thrown at the embassy in Cockspur Street, London. Three people glued their hands to windows and doors to blockade the building, and two people climbed on to the canopy where they continued to decorate the building with paint and graffitied slogans, and they glued letters to the façade.
They were joined by a larger group of Extinction Rebellion supporters who had earlier attended a prayer vigil in Parliament Square led by an Indigenous Amazonian from Ecuador, Kurukindi. Holding up photographs of some of many Indigenous defenders of the forest who have been murdered or disappeared when loggers move in to their lands, they read out the long list of names chanting “We Remember Your Name” between each.
Brazilian Indigenous groups had expressed fear and anger at Bolsonaro’s rhetoric and the rapid, aggressive changes to their environment, worsened since he came to power in January. Researchers from the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) described the new government policies as a “death agenda” which threatened Indigenous people, biodiversity and the global climate. Reports showed Amazon deforestation rates up 88% compared to the previous year.
Prominent Indigenous activists, increasingly including female leaders such as Sônia Guajajara, led vocal campaigns to raise awareness and oppose the Government’s anti-Indigenous activity. Just days before the London action, two thousand Indigenous women marched on Brasilia demanding recognition and respect. Two months earlier, more than four thousand Indigenous community leaders made their yearly Free Land Camp (#ATL2019) in Brasilia and marched to the capital to demand justice in “land, rights, and health”. The protests were the focus of high tensions, with Bolsonaro authorising the National Guard to be present in a show of force against the demonstrators.
Film appeared later in the day of brave marchers entering the Health Ministry in Brasilia.
Two weeks earlier, Emyra of the Wajapi people was stabbed to death after an armed wildcat miners invaded their village in Amapa. The murder provoked a callout for international help, reposted widely on social media, highlighting the fact that the Wajapi were at risk of genocide by extractivists. President Bolsonaro said there was no proof Emyra was murdered, despite official government reports displaying evidence suggesting the contrary.
Marielle Franco (honoured in one of the stencils sprayed on the embassy) was a queer feminist politician serving as city councillor for Rio, assassinated in March 2018 by individuals linked to Bolsonaro. Franco spoke out about crimes committed in Rio’s favelas by corrupt police, militia and traffickers. She fought against racism, defended LGBTQ+, fought for women’s rights, and was a voice for people living in poverty.
The Amazon is recognised by scientists as being the ‘lungs of the earth’ and has a crucial role in soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With global emissions still increasing and new climate tipping points discovered almost every week, it’s sheer madness to be destroying vast swathes of forest for oil and gold, or to plant soya or palm oil and rear cattle.
Six people were arrested in connection with the protest, but only five will appear on trial because wildlife biologist Iggy Fox, who climbed on to the canopy that morning, passed away unexpectedly on the 7th February last year while attending an anti-poaching training course in South Africa. He was just 25 years old.
Had he still been alive, Iggy would have made passionate appeals to the jury this week defending the actions taken at the Brazilian Embassy and explaining his motives.
Here are some excerpts from a speech he made at the time.
Two previous trials of climate activists at Southwark Crown Court resulted in acquittals in front of juries.
In May 2019, Extinction Rebellion co-founder Roger Hallam was acquitted alongside David Durant over criminal damage caused during a divestment campaign at Kings College London. Not only did they get the college to divest its pension funds from fossil fuels, but they also persuaded a jury to return a perverse judgement, ignoring the judge’s instruction that they had no defence in law.
In April this year, six Extinction Rebellion activists were acquitted over damage caused to the Shell headquarters which took place during the April Rebellion in 2019. Again, the judge said there was no defence in law, for all but one of the defendants, but the jury returned a majority verdict of ‘not guilty’.
This week’s trial is being heard before Judge Gregory Perrins at the court at English Grounds, SE1.