Extinction Rebellion (XR) have criticised reports that they could be reclassified as an organised crime group by the Home Office as “ridiculous”.
The news comes a day after a number of the UK’s biggest national newspapers were delayed by XR protesters who blockaded printing presses as part of their environmental protests.
The Sunday Telegraph – which was one of the affected papers alongside The Daily Mail and Ruper Murdoch-owned titles including The Sun and The Times – revealed the news amid ongoing controversy about XR’s tactics.
But the climate change campaigners – 26 of whom have now been charged with aggravated trespass following the protest – have hit back at reports, highlighting unlawful practices at the Murchoch-owned News Corp such as the phone hacking scandal.
In a statement from the group, published online,XR spokesperson, Nuala Gathercole Lam, said: “According to the government’s own strategy ‘organised crime’ is ‘characterised by violence or the threat of violence and by the use of bribery and corruption’.
“That is hardly an accurate description of the thousands or ordinary people – the nurses, the doctors, the grandparents and others – who take part in Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent protests.”
In their statement Extinction Rebellion also drew attention to Murdoch’s defence of the fossil fuel industry as Australia burned during the bushfire crisis at the end of 2019 and start of 2020, highlighting the fact that his own son James quit News Corp citing “disagreements over editorial content”.
While the exact nature of the disagreements was not disclosed, James had previously criticised News Corp outlets for their climate change coverage.
XR also highlighted news reports on Saturday that the UK government has been formally warned by The Council of Europe for threatening press freedom after it blacklisted a group of investigative journalists.
A Whitehall source told The Sunday Telegraph that Priti Patel and Boris Johnson had asked Home Office officials to take “fresh look” at how the group is classified legally.
The paper reported a quote from an anonymous source, which read: “It’s clear they’re not your normal protest group, so you have to look at them in a different way.”
They reportedly added that the PM was “extremely concerned” about the group.
Johnson tweeted on Saturday: “A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change.
“It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”
A Home Office spokesperson declined to comment on the Sunday Telegraph’s report, instead directing HuffPost UK to comments made by Priti Patel on Twitter.
The home secretary on Saturday described the protest as an “attack on our free press, society and democracy”, adding that the action was “completely unacceptable.”
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, foreign secretary Dominic Raab avoided commenting directly on the reports that Extinction Rebellion could be reclassified.
He said: “We always keep all of our laws under review but I think actually the laws are in place to take relevant enforcement action against criminal behaviour.
“This government is hosting the UN global climate change talks next year, we’ve got an incredible record of cutting emissions, we want to go further, and I respect the right to peaceful protest.
“But hijacking that with a militant agenda to disrupt the very heart of democratic debate which is through a free media is just totally wrong and we’re against it.
“I think law enforcement action should be taken to preserve our wider freedoms, and they do include a free media.”
Asked again to answer whether the government was planning or reclassify XR as an organised crime group, Raab said: “Well as I said, we keep all of our laws under review but I think certainly from everything I’ve seen to date there are the enforcement powers necessary to ensure that that kind of behaviour that we saw overnight is not repeated.”