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New Zealand climate activist faces 10 years in jail for forged email to oil executives

Penwarden’s sentencing is set for September and the maximum penalty is ten years in prison.
Penwarden’s sentencing is set for September and the maximum penalty is ten years in prison. Copyright Matthew Ansley
Copyright Matthew Ansley
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Penwarden claims the fake letter was never intended to deceive or be believed, but that it was a “satirical protest.”

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A climate activist from New Zealand is facing up to ten years in prison after sending a false letter saying a fossil fuel conference had been cancelled.

Rosemary Penwarden posed as the organiser of the event writing to oil industry delegates due to attend the meeting.

Although the environmental activist stated that the stunt was a satirical protest, she has been found guilty of forgery.

Penwarden says she is “astonished” by the charges.

Why is the NZ climate activist facing 10 years in prison?

Posing as the organiser of the 2019 Petroleum Exploration and Production Association of New Zealand (PEPANZ) annual conference, Penwarden penned an email to oil executives notifying them of the event’s cancellation.

The 64-year-old activist’s letter used a PEPANZ letterhead and official association and member logos at the base. Penwarden sent the letter to delegates a week before the conference from the email address “conferencepepanz@gmail.com.”

When organisers at the PEPANZ offices became aware of the email, they quickly informed delegates that the conference had not been called off and the event went ahead as planned.

Penwarden claims the fake letter was never intended to deceive or be believed, but that it was a “satirical protest.”

“I like to think I was a threat to this industry, but for goodness sake, I’m 52kg, five foot three inches high, and 64,” Penwarden told the Guardian.

“These are the biggest polluting companies in our entire world. I felt it was important that they heard from little grandmothers.”

Despite her lawyer arguing that the letter was never intended to seem legitimate, Penwarden has been charged with two counts of forgery.

On Wednesday, a court in the Dunedin district found her guilty of making a forged document and using a forged document.

Penwarden’s sentencing is set for September and the maximum penalty is ten years in prison.

What did the activist write in her false letter to oil delegates?

Penwarden marked her letter as “urgent” and began formally, notifying delegates of the cancellation of the petroleum conference and apologising for the inconvenience.

The ending of the email raised suspicions, however.

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“We are deeply concerned at the rapidly accelerating social and political changes engulfing us, highlighted by many of our own children preparing to strike from school to demand a safe future,” she wrote.

“Despite our best efforts at secrecy, activists have discovered this year’s conference and were yet again planning noise and disruption. But there is a silver lining to all of this: we will not be there to listen to that incessant chanting.”

Although he believed the letter to be real, chief scientist for Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) Australia, Dr Andrew Long, questioned if the email account had been “hijacked.”

In June 2020, seven months after the conference, police sequestered Penwarden’s laptop and phone where they found several drafts of the letter and an article detailing environmental concerns about the conference.

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Penwarden says the charges have “astonished” her but not made her any less determined.

“This is a motivation for me to continue doing what I do,’’ said Penwarden from outside court.

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