In a verdict that could resonate with environmentalists, a Swiss court has 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.
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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, adding that 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 say Credit Suisse is one of the world's biggest investors in fossil fuels, making available more than $7.8 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.
During last week's proceedings, at least one of the activists - all aged 25 or younger - expressed despair about the state of the world and the lack of a desire to have children in it, Batou said.
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.”
Batou, the defense lawyer, cautioned that the verdict didn't amount to a “blank cheque for action against all banks.”
“If there was one chance to get an acquittal ... it was in this one,” she said . The protest, she added, was “really well-designed and thought-through.”
The activists are urging Federer, undoubtedly the most famous Swiss sports figure of all time, to pressure the Zurich-based bank or even cut ties to it.
“If we get him to distance himself from the bank, we will empower our action,” Batou said.
Activists launch petition calling for Federer action
Meanwhile, climate activists on Monday stepped up a campaign urging Federer to either persuade Credit Suisse to stop investing in fossil fuels or cut ties with them.
The Swiss champion responded over the weekend after Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg retweeted a message criticising Credit Suisse with the hashtag #RogerWakeUpNow.
Federer said in a statement widely quoted by media that he took climate change "very seriously" and promised to "dialogue on important issues with my sponsors".
But campaigners pressed Federer to go further, urging him to become a "climate champion" in an online petition that had garnered more than 8,000 signatures on Monday.
"When you speak, people usually listen," read the petition posted on the website Campax, accusing Credit Suisse of funding "climate chaos" around the world.
The campaign is supported by Lausanne Climate Action, a Swiss organisation that is also defending a group of activists who played tennis inside a Credit Suisse branch in 2018 in protest against Federer's sponsorship deal.