German climate activists sentenced for spraying paint on Brandenburg Gate

By Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court on Tuesday handed down suspended eight-month prison sentences to three climate activists who sprayed orange paint on the columns of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate last September to demand a stop to the use of fossil fuels by 2030.

The activists were supporters of the "Last Generation" climate activists group, which had made headlines in Germany with hundreds of road blocks by protesters who glued themselves to tarmac.

The defendants, aged between 22 and 64, admitted their involvement and said their motive was to protest against the federal government's climate policy, Berlin Tiergarten District Court said in a statement.

The prison sentences were suspended for two years but could be enforced if the defendants commit new offences.

"This two-year suspension of this sentence basically means that these people can no longer be politically active without having to go to prison," Mirjam Hermann, a lawyer at the Support for Active Civil Society (RAZ) association, told Reuters.

The defence lawyers said they would appeal the verdict which they said was not an appropriate response to civil disobedience.

"The reasons for the judgment show that the judge did not want to clarify the facts in an impartial manner," defence lawyer Inga Schulz said in a statement.

In assessing the penalty, the court said it took into account the fact that a national monument was damaged as a result of the incident in addition to the financial damage.

In the trial, an employee of a restoration company involved in the cleaning of the monument was questioned, the court said, adding that the paint caused material damage amounting to around 110,000 euros.

"The defendant's stated goal of achieving a change in climate policy does not justify such an action. In a democracy there are other ways to achieve one's political goals," the court added.

The Last Generation, a Germany-based group within the Europe-wide A22 network that includes Britain's Just Stop Oil, said the verdict was drastic and called for a rally in front of the Brandenburg Gate in response to the ruling.

"The orange Brandenburg Gate should remind us that change and therefore a life according to our common values - humanity, justice, honesty - is possible," said Lina Johnsen, a spokesperson for the group.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Paul Simao)