Court clears environment protesters over stunt at Swiss bank

GENEVA (AP) — In a verdict that could resonate with environmentalists, a Swiss court ruled in favour of a dozen young activists who stormed into the office of a Credit Suisse bank in a peaceful protest against its investments in fossil fuels that has ensnared the bank’s brand ambassador, Roger Federer.

The court in the Lausanne suburb of Renens cleared the activists who were arrested and ordered to pay fines over their November 2018 stunt in which they donned tennis outfits and whacked balls at a Credit Suisse branch in the city, riffing off Federer’s role with the bank.

The case went to trial because the defendants refused to pay fines linked to charges like protesting without a permit and resisting police.

Emotions ran high as Judge Philippe Colelough read his verdict that backed the activists’ argument that burning of fossil fuels constituted a “current and concrete” threat to the planet.

Laila Batou, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said the judge accepted that the activists had exhausted all other legitimate forms of protest like petition drives, sidewalk demonstrations, and efforts with Swiss lawmakers.

“The lawyers, the clients, the audience cried,” Batou said. She said the “bombshell” from the judge was his recognition that the threat of climate change was “impossible” to block through other legal means.

The activists with Lausanne Climate Action (LAC) say Credit Suisse is one of the world’s biggest investors in fossil fuels, making available more than USD7.8 billion to nearly four dozen companies that are said to be “extreme” users of dirty fossil fuels. They say that the bank increased its financing for coal 16-fold from 2016 to 2017.

Credit Suisse said in a statement that it “takes note of the verdict and will analyse it.” The bank has previously argued that it could not tolerate “unlawful attacks” on its branches, while voicing its respect for “freedom of expression as a fundamental democratic right”.

Credit Suisse has said that “in the context of its global climate strategy that it will no longer invest in new coal-fired power plants.”.

Defendant Dijana Simeunovic, delivers a statement to the media, next to lawyer Irene Wettstein, after the non-guilty verdict of the trial of 12 pro-climate activists of the LAC collective (Lausanne Action Climat), in front of the tribunal of Renens, Switzerland. PHOTO: AP