Zurich court convicts Credit Suisse climate protesters

ZURICH, May 14 (Reuters) - A Zurich court on Friday convicted nine climate activists who protested outside Credit Suisse headquarters in 2019 over the Swiss bank’s financing of fossil fuel projects on charges including trespass and coercion.

Protests against big banks’ activities that contribute to global warming have prompted a number of legal disputes over the last two years.

Seeking to pressure Swiss banks into halting the financing of fossil fuels, environmental activists blocked entrances to Credit Suisse in Zurich and UBS in Basel during the July 2019 demonstration before police intervened and arrested some protesters.

A judge on Friday ruled that, despite the “notorious” and undisputed nature of climate change and the fact that Credit Suisse “as a bank enables investments that ultimately run counter to climate protection”, the defendants should have used milder means to draw attention to their cause.

They were given suspended fines, conditional on good behaviour.

“Contrary to the opinion of the defendants, there is no state of emergency, in the legal sense, that could justify conduct that is fundamentally prohibited,” the Zurich court said in a statement.

The case is one of several involving acts of civil disobedience by youth protesters that have reached Swiss courts, with mixed results so far.

“We are very disappointed with today’s ruling. It once again ignores the climate crisis, legitimises climate destruction and criminalises necessary and legitimate protest,” a spokeswoman for Climate Justice, a collective that helped organise the demonstration, told Reuters.

Credit Suisse said it took note of the verdict.

In January, a Basel court cleared five of the activists who had protested outside UBS’s branch in Basel during the same demonstration organised by the Climate Justice and Break Free groups. The presiding judge said their protest had been conducted in a considered and non-violent manner.

Protesters who dressed in tennis whites pretending to be superstar Roger Federer to underscore his sponsorship deal with Credit Suisse were acquitted by a Lausanne court on the grounds that their actions were necessitated by the “imminent danger” of climate change, only for a higher court to reverse the decision last year. They are appealing.

Eight of the nine defendants on Friday were sentenced for both coercion and trespassing, receiving suspended fines of 400 Swiss francs ($440) each, while the ninth defendant received a suspended fine of 300 francs on the sole charge of coercion, the court said.

The ruling may be appealed. (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich and Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Nick Macfie)