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Airport blockade conviction upheld

24 September 2007 - Thirty-one environmental activists who successfully blocked a Schiphol taxiway in June 2006 endangered air traffic, the Amsterdam court ruled last Thursday. It confirmed a magistrate’s ruling against which the activists had appealed, Milieudefensie announced.

The activists, who were sentenced to 40 hours of community service, are considering appealing to the court of cassation. “The sentence isn’t the problem, but we do have a problem with the lack of evidence”, said Joris Wijnhoven of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth), the organisation which organised the protest.

The activists acknowledged that they broke the law by cutting the fences and ignoring an order to leave the terrain. However, they denied having endangered air traffic and argued that there is no evidence to support that claim. While some airplanes had to be diverted, this is a routine operation for Schiphol, they claimed.

The solicitor-general argued that the activists are amateurs with regard to airport operations and therefore unable to assess the consequences of their actions. By merely entering the airport they would therefore have run the risk of endangering air traffic. He offered no evidence to prove that the blockade did cause actual danger.

At the trial, activists elaborately explained what measures they had taken to prevent danger. They had been observing Schiphol airport for months to study patterns in the use of taxiways and runways, comparing their findings with information from Schiphol websites.

During the blockade, the activists, wearing lights so as to be visible, were in constant contact with people who were monitoring relevant websites. They choose the taxiway providing access to the Polderbaan runway, rather than the one used to get landed planes off the runway. This means that the runway could still be used for emergency landings if necessary.

The blockade was carried out at a moment when traffic was low and visibility good. Activists knew the taxiway would not be used for at least ten minutes, and had trained to be able to remove the blockade within two minutes in case of an emergency. The authorities were immediately informed of the blockade.

Military Police who responded to the blockade used the taxiway to drive towards the activists, rather than the terrain along the taxiway. According to Milieudefensie, this supports their claim that there was no danger in being at the taxiway at that moment.

The blockade was a protest against the growth of air traffic from Schiphol Airport. According to Milieudefensie, Schiphol is responsible for ten percent of the Dutch contribution to the greenhouse effect.

The judge wanted to know whether the activists thought the end justifies the means and whether they would have resorted to more radical means had the blockade not engendered the media attention they had aimed for. Activists said they would never consider participating in actions that might endanger other people or themselves.

Photo: Milieudefensie. Milieudefensie, Wijnhoven weblog (in Dutch)


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