Rwe demands a fine: activist to pay 50,000 euros

The protests of the initiative in the Rhineland have not yet begun – and the energy company is already demanding a large sum of money from an opponent of coal.

Facing intimidation: climate activists prepare for action Photo: dpa

One week before the planned protests of the Ende Gelande alliance in the Rhenish lignite mining area, RWE is increasing the pressure on the activists. A law firm wrote to Daniel Hofinger, spokesman for the alliance, demanding payment of 50,000 euros within two weeks on behalf of the company. Reason: He had violated a cease-and-desist declaration. "I don’t have 50,000 euros," Hofinger told the taz. "RWE will not see a cent from me."

Ende Gelande demands an immediate coal phase-out and organizes blockades of tracks and opencast mines, for example. Hofinger had signed the cease-and-desist declaration in summer 2018. In doing so, he undertook not to disrupt the operation of RWE’s opencast mine and power plant and not to enter the company’s premises. The company’s lawyers now argue that Hofinger incited others to cause disturbances through his tweets and public statements.

Hofinger had signed the statement after it was sent to him several times. "I don’t want to fight RWE in civil courts," he says. "I thought I could also protect the climate in other ways." According to RWE, 700 activists have received cease-and-desist letters, and at least 300 have also signed them; Ende Gelande knows of 30 signatories.

That such a high penalty is due is unusual. Ende Gelande is only aware of one case in which an activist had to pay in the low four-digit range. He had personally entered company premises. RWE speaks of three cases in which "we have taken legal action on the basis of a breach of a cease-and-desist declaration".

Is incitement part of the cease-and-desist declaration?

It is not clear from the letter to Hofinger, which is available to the taz, exactly which tweet is being objected to. The activist is only quoted at one point – from an event of which the Aachener Zeitung had reported that Hofinger had called for "exaggerated forms of civil disobedience". So the question is whether the call for actions like Ende Gelande already violates the cease-and-desist declaration. But inciting others is not even part of the signed cease-and-desist declaration. "That goes against freedom of speech," Hofinger said. "I’m being accused of making a public statement."

Thorsten Deppner, Hofinger’s lawyer, does not believe the company can prove incitement against his client. To do so, it would have to prove that Hofinger convinced a specific individual to disrupt operations. "This is a strategy of intimidation," Deppner said.

RWE objects to that. "Anyone who signs a cease-and-desist declaration because, for example, he has unlawfully entered the plant is not an innocent lamb," a company spokesman said in response to a taz inquiry.

Police intimidate students

The letter is not the first attempt at intimidation against the activists. At the end of May, RWE had also banned another Ende-Gelande spokeswoman, Katrin Henneberger, from the open pit mine and demanded a similar cease-and-desist letter. Henneberger says she has not signed it so far.

Last week there was a letter from the Aachen police to schools in the region, which in which students were warned against participating in the blockades. The letter contained several errors that the police had to correct. Rail blockades in which participants do not chain themselves, for example, "do not constitute a criminal offense," the press office announced on request already on Friday.

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