Credit Suisse blocks climate expert testimony in Swiss protest case

by Reuters
Tuesday, 18 February 2020 12:40 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Climate protestors sit in a rubber dinghy while others play a song from the film "Titanic" in front of headquarters of Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Zurich, Switzerland, February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo

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The court case is seen as a test of Swiss institutions' tolerance of growing civil disobedience in the name of curbing global warming

GENEVA, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Credit Suisse has succeeded in blocking a request to allow climate change experts to testify in the case of a man charged with vandalism after red paint was smeared on the windows of a bank branch during a climate protest.

The Geneva court case is seen as a test of Swiss institutions' tolerance of growing civil disobedience in the name of halting climate change that has targeted banks and, this week, commodity trading houses.

Defence lawyers had requested at least three expert witnesses to show that their client's actions were necessitated by the "imminent danger" posed by climate change, hoping to use a successful argument in a similar case in Lausanne last month.

But lawyers for Credit Suisse opposed the request and on Tuesday judge Francoise Saillen Agad agreed.

Credit Suisse filed a criminal complaint against the 23-year-old defendant for smearing what he says was washable red paint on its Geneva branch during a protest in October 2018, according to court documents and testimony.

"The slower our actions (on climate change), the more legitimate the actions are that target the financial sector," Laila Batou, a lawyer for the defence, told the court.

Outside the courtroom, supporters held up copies of the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stained with red hand prints in solidarity with the accused.

Lawyers for Credit Suisse are seeking 2,252 Swiss francs ($2,297) in damages. The defendant has already been ordered by prosecutors to pay the cost of proceedings and a 600 franc fine.

Credit Suisse did not respond to emailed requests for comment. It had said of the Lausanne case that it respected the activists' cause but deemed their actions unacceptable.

In December, it said it would stop financing the development of new coal-fired plants.

Spurred by Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to urge the Swiss establishment to make faster progress on fighting climate change in a country warming twice as fast as the global average.

Recent protests have focused on the impact of its huge financial sector, which activists say is not counted by the government in its reports of greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate activists last month hailed the Lausanne's court's decision to acquit 12 defendants, but critics say it creates a dangerous precedent that will encourage copy-cat stunts. An appeal was lodged.

($1 = 0.9804 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Mike Harrison)

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