Extinction Rebellion has described government moves to treat the climate crisis protest movement as an organised crime group as “ridiculous”.
The group said associating it with the state’s definition of a crime gang as “characterised by violence or the threat of violence and by the use of bribery and corruption” was an insult to the thousands of ordinary citizens who supported its cause.
On Sunday the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, condemned an Extinction Rebellion protest that disrupted the distribution of national newspapers.
Starmer said: “The free press is the cornerstone of democracy and we must do all we can to protect it. Denying people the chance to read what they choose is wrong and does nothing to tackle climate change.”
Defending its protests outside two printing presses in Hertfordshire and Merseyside, Extinction Rebellion said the government’s threatened reclassification was “hardly an accurate description of the thousands of ordinary people – the nurses, the doctors, the grandparents and others – who take part in Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent protests”.
More than 100 protesters used vehicles and bamboo structures to block roads outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on Friday evening. Hertfordshire police said delivery lorries had not left the Broxbourne site as of 6am on Saturday, and that 42 arrests had been made.
The presses print the News UK titles including the Sun, Times, Sun on Sunday and Sunday Times, as well as the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard.
Boris Johnson and the home secretary, Priti Patel, also condemned the blockades.
It was reported on Sunday that the prime minister and home secretary had asked Whitehall officials to take a fresh look at how Extinction Rebellion was classified in law. Ministers were said to be looking into new powers to give police greater scope to intercept demonstrators.
Extinction Rebellion accused the Conservative government of bending to the will of Rupert Murdoch and other media tycoons.
“Extinction Rebellion decided to stop the distribution of the print version of several newspapers for one day and suddenly our politicians are up in arms. Where were they when our ‘free press’ was being bought up by billionaires?” the group said.
In response to the disruption, the Telegraph announced that all its online content would be free to read until Monday morning.
In a statement published on its website the Telegraph said: “On Friday night, a group of extremists from Extinction Rebellion blockaded the printing plants where the Telegraph and other titles are produced. Production of those newspapers was severely affected and many of our loyal readers were denied the opportunity to read the fine journalism that we produced.
“Therefore we have made the decision that all Telegraph journalism published this weekend is now free to read on our website until Monday morning.”