The homes of three Italian climate activists were searched by the Italian police last week over their alleged involvement in March in a protest against fossil gas in Milan, Italy.
The search warrant, shared with DeSmog by one of the activists, alleges that the activists spray painted and vandalized the side of a building, headquarters of the companies Centrex and Weedoo, both of which are involved in the “sale and supply of gas and energy on behalf of Gazprom” a Russian state-owned fossil fuel company, the warrant says. The warrant states that the search is motivated by the assumption that “electronic devices” found may help “identify the accused” or contain “propagandistic material” tied to their “criminal conduct.”
Last year, oil and gas sales made up 36 percent of Russia’s total budget and, since the start of the war in Ukraine, activists and environmentalists across Europe have been pressuring governments to stop all gas and oil supply agreements with Gazprom. According to the Climate Accountability Institute, Gazprom ranked third among the top 20 companies that emitted the most carbon dioxide between 1965 and 2017.
Italy is among the European countries with the highest share of gas supply from Russia. The search warrant alleges the act of protest the activists are accused of was held on March 19, when some words against fossil gas were spray painted on the Centrex and Weedoo building in Milan.
One of the three accused climate activists whose home was searched by the Italian police is 26-year-old Sergio, a student who withheld his full name out of concern for his privacy. He said six police officers arrived at his home in Milan on May 19.
“As well as my phone and computers, they [the police] took my clothes, books, notes, and my activist flags,” said Sergio, who is also an activist with Fridays for Future Milan. He added that the officers told him to take his clothes off and squat, as they searched him naked. “I’m telling you this so that people can understand what kind of environment it felt like,” Sergio said.
Despite activists’ calls for Europe to cut ties with Gazprom, on May 17, two days before Sergio’s home was searched, the Italian oil and gas major Eni announced that it had begun proceedings to open two accounts with Gazprom Bank, one in euros and one in rubles, so as to keep buying gas. In late March, Russia began requesting payments for gas in its own currency, and a month later cut off gas supply to Poland and Bulgaria after both countries refused.
“It’s hard to believe it’s a coincidence,” said Sergio, of the timing of the search of his home.
“It’s very strange that this reaction [to mandate a search warrant] has not come in March but a whole two months after, and especially two days after Eni announced to open its accounts at GazpromBank,” said Martina Comparelli, Fridays for Future Italy spokesperson, who was not one of the three activists searched. “Why now?”
Europa Verde, the Italian green political party, has expressed solidarity with the three climate activists. “It is evidently an intimidatory act with the aim of gagging the ecological movement,” Europa Verde said in a statement following the searches. The political party also announced it will request a parliamentary inquiry to clarify the events.
According to Comparelli, what has happened should be seen through a political lens.
“As a movement, we hope people aren’t going to stop at what happened but start to see beyond it,” she said. And what she hopes people will see is “the extreme political power of these [fossil fuel] companies.”
“What I’m worried about isn’t what I’m accused of,” said Sergio. “It’s the deployment of forces; it’s the fact activists are getting the signal that they [these companies, the police, the government] can come and do what they want to us. It’s intimidatory.”
“I’m afraid that our freedom to voice dissent is going to be taken away from us,” he added.
Fridays for Future Italy has been asking the Italian government to stop relations with Gazprom and to join the fight for a European-level embargo on Russian oil and gas.
In response to these searches, it has planned a nationwide protest for this Friday, May 27, which it is hoping to take to other European countries as well.
With this protest, the activists want to say: “We are not going to be silenced,” Comparelli explained. She added that by allowing the searches and seizures, “they haven’t only hit three people, but the whole movement.”