On 5 November 2021, four climate activists submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights challenging the Swiss Federal Supreme Court’s dismissal of their appeals of criminal convictions concerning the occupation of the premises of the Lausanne branch of Credit Suisse bank in 2018. The applicants invoked the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Articles 10 and 11 ECHR.
On November 22, 2018, twelve activists occupied the bank’s lobby for one hour. Disguised as Roger Federer, the bank’s ambassador, they engaged in a wild game of tennis to denounce the banking giant’s investments in fossil fuels and urge the tennis star to terminate his sponsorships deals with CS. The applicants were charged with trespassing and acquitted at first instance, but later found guilty on appeal by the Public Prosecutor of the canton of Vaud. The applicants invoked a provision in the Swiss Penal Code with permits illegal actions under certain conditions, i.e. under conditions of lawful necessity given imminent danger. The Swiss Federal Supreme Court did not agree with this argumentation, noting that the activists also had legal methods at their disposal in order to draw attention to the climate crisis.
Although it has not yet specifically considered the right to protest or to civil disobedience in the context of climate change, the European Court of Human Rights has extensive case-law on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. For example, in the case of Bumbeș v. Romania, it found a violation of these rights when an activist was fined for handcuffing himself to a government car park barrier in protest against a mining project. Here, the Court noted that, while States have a margin of appreciation in this context, the imposition of sanctions in response to political expression can have a chilling effect on public speech.
The application form in this case has not been made publicly available, and the ECtHR has yet to communicate the case. More information will be added here as it becomes public.
Notably, because it is different in focus from the mitigation cases pending before the ECtHR as of early 2023, this case had not been adjourned awaiting a ruling in the Grand Chamber’s three climate cases, as had seven other pending climate cases.
17 March 2023