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UK jails 3 environmental activists for protest against fracking operation

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This January 10, 2017 file photo shows anti-fracking protesters slow-walk in front of a gravel truck delivering at the Preston New Road site where Energy firm Cuadrilla is setting up fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations at Little Plumpton near Blackpool in northwest England. (AFP photo)

A court in the United Kingdom has issued jail sentences for three environmental activists who attended a protest last year against a fracking operation, also known as hydraulic fracturing, in Blackpool, in northwest England.

After a hearing on Wednesday, the crown court in Preston handed down jail sentences of up to 16 months to Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26, Richard Roberts, 36, and Richard Loizou, 31, for taking part in a four-day direct action protest in Preston New Road, located near a fracking site in Blackpool.

A court jury had convicted the three in August of causing a public nuisance. A fourth activist, Julian Brock, 47, was given a 12-month suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to the same offense.

Blevins, Roberts and Loizou dismissed the charges brought against them by the police, saying they were worried about the environmental impacts of the drilling operation in the area.

All the four convicts had climbed up lorries carrying equipment of Cuadrilla, a famous fracking company, to the site in Blackpool.

File photos by Getty Images shows, from left to right, Richard Loizou, Richard Roberts and Simon Roscoe-Blevins outside Preston crown court before sentencing.

During the protest, which took place in July 2017, people had expressed their support for the men, throwing blankets, food and water up to them as they camped out on the vehicles.

However, Judge Robert Altham justified the prison sentences given to the activists, claiming that they posed a risk of reoffending and could not be rehabilitated as “each of them remains motivated by an unswerving confidence that they are right”.

“Even at their trial they felt justified by their actions. Given the disruption caused in this case, only immediate custody can achieve sufficient punishment,” said the judge.

It is the first time since 1932 that people in Britain are put behind bars simply for environmental causes.

A prominent lawyer representing the three activists decried the sentences. Kirsty Brimelow, head of the international human rights team at Doughty St Chambers, said the three had a right to go beyond “simply standing and shouting” in the peaceful and political protest.

Brimelow said the court rejected her argument that the right to freedom of speech can include non-violent direct action. The lawyer said that the three activist were right in their assumption that fracking posed a serious risk to the health and safety of the local community.

“It is relevant that there is a huge amount of scientific study that points to the damage of increasing climate emissions,” said Brimelow while referring to intergovernmental climate panel findings that suggest climate change caused by harmful activities like fracking would displace 75 million people by 2035.

Rosalind Blevins, the mother of one of the activists, said after the trial that she was proud of her son and the cause he was advancing.

“I am proud of him and of them for standing up for what is so, so important for all of us,” said Blevins outside the court.

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