Climate activist, Stephen Gingell, has been sentenced to six months in prison after taking part in a peaceful slow march protest on a London road. This is believed to be the first jail sentence under the newly enacted Public Order Act 2023 which prohibits engaging in any activity that obstructs the use or operation of essential facilities such as newspaper printing presses, power plants, oil and gas extraction or distribution sites, harbours, airports, railway, carrying a potential sentence of up to 12 months in jail.
Gingell, a father of three from Manchester, was part of a group of approximately 40 supporters of the climate campaign group Just Stop Oil. The 30-minute march on Holloway Road in north London on November 12 was a demonstration against new fossil fuel production in the UK.
Gingell pleaded guilty to violating Section 7 in a November hearing at Wimbledon magistrates court, and on Thursday, his case was moved to Manchester magistrates court, where he received a six-month sentence.
The Home Office cited such “guerilla tactics” when introducing the stringent anti-protest measures of the Public Order Act in parliament. But its critics argue that it holds individuals walking on roads accountable for "interference with key national infrastructure."
A spokesperson for Just Stop Oil criticised Section 7, alleging that it was drafted by the fossil fuel lobby and introduced by Priti Patel in April. The spokesperson argued that the government has effectively criminalised walking on public roads, turning it into an imprisonable offence. The group raised concerns about the impact of new oil and gas production on millions of people and accused the government of protecting those involved in harmful activities while suppressing peaceful protests.
Liberty, a human rights organization, also condemned Gingell's sentencing. Katy Watts, a lawyer at Liberty, expressed shock at the severity of the sentences for protesters, considering it “yet another unnecessary and draconian law introduced by a government that is hell-bent on discouraging people from standing up for what they believe in. It is a clear attempt to silence people and for the government to hide from all accountability.”
Starting in late October, the police began using Section 7 to address Just Stop Oil's protests, leading to the arrest of 60 individuals during a march in Parliament Square. Between then and December 4, the group's slow march protests resulted in 470 arrests (630 times), with approximately half of them occurring under the new law.
Photo credit: Lucy North
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