Swiss appeals court reverses acquittal of Credit Suisse climate protesters

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) - A Swiss appeals court on Thurday reversed an earlier ruling that had acquitted 12 climate activists of trespassing at Credit Suisse on the grounds their actions were necessitated by the “imminent danger” of global warming.

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The surprise January verdict had inspired other acts of civil disobedience by climate protesters, including against banks financing fossil fuel projects, and was seen as setting an important precedent for follow-up cases.

The case originally went to court after protesters, mostly students, refused to pay a fine for trespassing inside the bank in Nov. 2018. Dressed in tennis whites, they pretended to be tennis superstar Roger Federer to draw attention to his sponsorship deal with the bank which they want him to drop.

Judge Christophe Maillard told the appeals court on Thursday that the danger of climate change was “imminent” but that the defendants could have used other means of protesting.

He imposed fines of 100-150 Swiss francs ($108.15-$162.23) on each of the defendants.

Prosecutor Eric Cottier, who led the appeal, voiced satisfaction with the outcome. “It is a warning in the sense that you need to respect the system like any other citizen in this country,” he told climate activists outside the court.

Cottier was heckled by activists carrying tennis rackets.

Marie-Pomme Moinat, a defence lawyer, said Thursday’s ruling “favours the interests of a bank to the detriment of our future and this sort of judgment causes us worry and despair. There is no doubt we will appeal it,” she said, to protesters’ cheers.

Credit Suisse spokesman Jean-Paul Darbellay said the bank was committed to climate protection and had, for example, made at least 300 billion Swiss francs available for sustainable financing over 10 years.

Lawyers for the activists had previously used a novel defence called “state of necessity”, saying their actions were required by the urgency of climate change, and the judge handling the original proceeding agreed.

Switzerland’s climate is warming at about twice the pace of the global average and dramatically changing its famed mountain landscapes, breaking up once-mighty glaciers.

As part of this week’s court proceeding, European scientists and experts submitted contributions to the defence to back up their claims, saying Switzerland was “lagging far behind” in implementing legislation to reduce greenhouse emissions.

In another blow, climate protesters camped out illegally near parliament in the capital Bern were evacuated by police on Wednesday.

($1 = 0.9246 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Emma Farge in Lausanne; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Mark Heinrich