Climate activist fined in Berlin
EIt is a coincidence that Helga H. has to answer in court this week of all days. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage for you? In any case, the interest in the hearing in the Berlin-Tiergarten district court is so great that not all of their supporters get a seat in the hall. The media rush is also considerable. Because the day before, a cyclist was declared brain dead after being run over by a cement mixer earlier in the week and could only be rescued with a delay because the rescue vehicle was stuck in a traffic jam caused by activists of the “Last Generation”. Since then, there has been discussion about punishing radical climate protectors.
Helga H. took part in the group’s first sit-in on January 24th. Two similar actions followed in the days that followed. The accused is 56 years old and comes from northern Hesse. She is married with grown children and has never been guilty of anything in her life. With her part-time work as a painter – handicraft, not art – she claims to earn 450 euros in addition to the family income.
Helga H. wears glasses, checked flared pants in caramel and a knitted jumper with a turtleneck and cable knit, her long hair is mostly gray. She has prepared a multi-page statement, which she reads out in a soft voice but with increasing emphasis. She talks about her anxiety that January morning, poor sleep the night before and stomach pains. She is sorry that drivers were stuck in traffic because of her and that she was doing work for the police. Nevertheless, she “put herself on the street without violence” because: “The earth is burning everywhere.” Then Helga H. argues with the “climate emergency”, opposes food waste and accuses the government of doing nothing: “We are the first generation feeling the beginning of climate collapse, and the last one who can do something about it.”
As witnesses, police officers reconstruct what happened on the Berlin city highway. One reports that the officials felt a bit perplexed at the fact that this was the first time they had faced a protest of this kind; that the demonstrators did not clear the street even after being asked three times; that the emergency doctor who was called first had to get nail polish remover from the drugstore in order to free the hands of activists who had stuck themselves to the road. Helga H. also stuck herself with superglue during her third campaign. The police report that she otherwise did not resist when she was carried away.
The Helga H. case is the seventh of its kind to be tried in Berlin. But the legal battle with these protests has only just begun. The court press office in Berlin has so far counted 174 cases. Only in individual cases did those affected accept the penalty order. In the other cases in which an objection was filed, the main hearing is still pending.
Are the public and the judiciary biased?
However, on Friday the defense initially called for the proceedings to be discontinued: the “extremely tragic accident” at the beginning of the week meant that the accused had been prejudged. “The pressure is high in public,” says the lawyer, who asked not to give his name publicly. “Inappropriate statements by state and federal politicians” and calls for “harsh, uncompromising punishment” could endanger the independence of the court and lead to “punishment at any cost”. The court dismissed the application as unfounded.
Personal appeal to the judge
It is the defendant herself who, in her closing remarks, warns the judge to make decisions based on her conscience and in favor of climate protection and not according to the law. “As a judge, you have the opportunity to set an example for survival,” says Helga H. after she used the stage again to warn of rising sea levels and the increase in extreme weather events. Otherwise, you make yourself “an accomplice in the destruction of people in the Global South and here with us”. She addresses the judge directly: “Say which side you are on.”
The court sentenced the activist to a fine of 90 daily rates, which are based on her income and are therefore set at 15 euros each. The magistrate even goes beyond the request of the public prosecutor’s office. Unlike the representative of the prosecution, she not only assumes coercion, but also resistance against law enforcement officers in one case, because the tape prevented her from being carried away for a while.
The defense had asked for an acquittal. From the auditorium, the verdict is occasionally acknowledged with boos. Helga H. had already announced in her closing remarks that she would not be deterred by a conviction: “It’s the same for me because I want to do it again until something changes.” The superglue is withdrawn.