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Civil Society Groups Protest Exclusion from U.N. Climate Summit, Photojournalist Detained and Beaten

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As the U.N. Climate Change Conference talks headed toward a conclusion last Friday in Cancún, civil society groups spoke out against the United Nations for what they called its "flawed" and undemocratic process.

While climate delegates were wrapping up the Cancún Agreements, behind closed doors inside the luxurious Moon Palace, activists and representatives of non-governmental found themselves increasingly iced out of the talks.

Democracy Now! reporter John Hamilton followed climate activist Diana Pei Wu, with the Grassroots Solution for Climate Justice, as she tried to enter the conference with her U.N. credentials, only to find out that she had been blocked from entering.

"So, today, when I walked in the door, as I do every morning, they scanned the badge, and it turned red, and it flashed. And it made this beeping noise," Wu said.

A U.N. official said she had been blocked from entering because she had attended a demonstration outside the conference.

"We know that these are very political decisions," Wu said. "And so, the idea that this is all -- that it's wrong to chant, that it's wrong to walk together, en masse, seems to me a shutting down of free speech and the democratic processes, which the U.N. is supposed to represent."

The frustration felt by NGOs over the U.N.'s clampdown led to a series of protests throughout the final hours of climate talks.

Watch Report that includes shocking footage of reuters photojournalist beaten by U.N. Officials and exclusive footage of climate justice protests inside the Moon Palace resort.

"What we just saw here inside the Moon Palace was over a dozen members of civil society who had become so frustrated with the systematic silencing of their voices that they decided to engage in symbolic civil disobedience," explained Patrick Reinsborough with the grassroots organizing group, the smartMeme Project. "And placing themselves directly on the stairs coming down from the plenary, they put gags over their mouth, gags that read 'UNFCCC.' So I think they were using their bodies in a final last-ditch effort to show the censorship and silencing that's happening inside these talks."

When the demonstrators continued their vigil past the time allotted to them, U.N. guards moved in and dragged them towards a waiting bus. The protesters linked arms, and the scene quickly became chaotic. As they wrestled activists onto buses, U.N. guards also seized press credentials from the necks of journalists, and detained a photographer while seizing his camera.

"We were covering a peaceful march of some young people, and suddenly U.N. security asked for a truck to come to take the kids away, who weren't doing anything to deserve that," said Gonzalo Zapata, a journalist from the newspaper Por Esto in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, in an interview with Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

Jorge Silva was covering the protest, working as a photographer for the Reuters news service, when he was aggressively detained by U.N. security guards and put on the bus.

"They put him on the bus and started to take him away while beating him," Zapata said of his colleague. "But other journalists quickly rushed to his defense by attempting to stop the bus from leaving."

"He is a colleague who was being taken away for simply doing his work as press," Zapata said.

A U.N. official said Silva had assaulted a guard.

Democracy Now! reported from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancún all last week. For the transcripts and audio/video podcast, visit Democracy Now! Click here for our complete coverage of the climate change talks. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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