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Intimidation tactics and violence are being used increasingly against protestors.

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Frontline Online: The perils of participatory democracy

by Lorna Howarth

The Ecologist's Lorna Howarth reports on news and action from the environmental frontline....

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…

Now is not a good time to be an environmental activist: in the UK, the massive French energy corporation EDF Energy is suing the twenty-one ‘No Dash For Gas’ activists for £5m for their nonviolent direct action at EDF’s West Burton Powerstation last November, something George Monbiot writing in The Guardian called “a global strategy by corporations to stifle democracy.”

Over 1,000 people an hour have been signing a petition in support of the activists, yet this ‘Slapp’ – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation - whilst considered “legal bullying” by Monbiot, could financially ruin the protesters and give them a criminal record for the rest of their lives. These days, campaigners and activists really are putting their lives on the line.

Meanwhile in other parts of the world, things are much worse, with activists suffering severe beatings or even losing their lives. In China, sixty-year-old Chen Yuqian an environmental activist was severely beaten for campaigning about the paper mills that he says are seriously polluting local water courses.

Last week, Chen and other activists challenged environmental officials to bathe in the rivers that they had been charged with keeping clean – but according to local media reports, a gang of armed men broke into Chen’s home at 6am and beat him: a warning to him and others to stop making waves. 

In Thailand last week, Prajob Nao-opas, an environmental activist who exposed the dumping of toxic waste and condemned the Thai government’s “fundamental failure” to protect activists fighting for environmental change, was shot four times in broad daylight in Chacheongsao Province, 20 miles from Bangkok.

Prajob had spent the previous year raising awareness of toxic waste dumping at various industrial estates in the region. This cold-blooded killing brings the total to more than 30 human rights defenders and environmentalists who have been killed in Thailand alone since 2001, with suspects charged in fewer than one in five cases.

In Cambodia late last year, Chut Wutty, a prominent campaigner against illegal deforestation was shot dead by a military policeman – his voice silenced forever, and in Brazil campaigners against forest destruction are routinely murdered to keep them quiet. The startling figure from 2011 is that on average, one activist a week was killed.

This trend is pointing to an increasingly fierce and bloody battle for control of resources, with fear, intimidation and violence being the tools of choice to silence those who have the courage to stand up and say that another world is possible and that it doesn't have to be like this. Journalists who report on these travesties of justice are also in the firing line: five months after reporting the untimely death of Chut Wutty, journalist Hang Serei Oudom was axed to death in Cambodia after reporting on links between the military and illegal logging in the country.

Journalists in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union have been intimidated, threatened, beaten or killed for exposing how powerful businessmen and corporations enrich themselves whilst wreaking ecocide upon the earth.

To counter this threat, we must all become digital activists using social media to expose wrongdoing wherever we see it. We cannot all be silenced. Journalists, writers, campaigners and activists must fearlessly continue to join-up the dots because blood spilt in a tropical forest can now be connected to luxury hardwoods sold on the high street. We all need to be vigilant because these stories touch us all.

Lorna Howarth is a writer and environmentalist. She is a contributing editor to Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and the founder of a small independent publishing agency:


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