Climate activists resist police crackdown in WA

March 7, 2023
Joana Partyka and Petrina Harley
Joana Partyka (left) and Petrina Harley

Climate activists in Western Australia are resisting an intimidation campaign by police who raided the homes of artists Trent Rojahn and Joana Partyka in the last week of February in connection to their climate activism.

Partyka pleaded guilty, and was ordered to pay $7500, in relation to a January action highlighting Woodside's climate vandalism. The raid came after she'd fully paid the fine with police claiming she was under suspicion for conspiracy.

"Honestly, it would be funny if it wasn't so terrifying," Partyka told Green Left.

"They served me with a data access order to force me to hand over passwords to my devices," she said.

She also described it as “massive over-reach from authorities designed to intimidate us”.

Rojahn's case in connection with spraying “Disrupt Burrup Hub” outside the Woodside office on February 13 is now before the courts. He described the night raid by police as “Woodside's dirty work”.

There was a small but important victory against similar intimidation on February 14 when the court decided in favour of Petrina Harley and Elizabeth Burrow. They were convicted in January in connection to a November 2021 protest against the Scarborough Gas Hub.

Prosecutors tried to hit the pair with a claim for $33,000 in legal costs, which Harley told Green Left was “blatant intimidation”. The February 14 decision rejected the police claim.

Harley said police were trying to punish the pair over and above the penalty imposed by the magistrate to deter other activists.

Police had also attempted to secure court costs against a third activist, who was arrested as part of the same action and then pleaded guilty. Police were unsuccessful and didn't appeal the decision.

Liam Cross from Extinction Rebellion WA and Socialist Alliance told Green Left that climate activism is particularly significant because of the huge amounts of fossil fuel extraction in WA.

“Raids, disproportionate penalties and legal fees are indicative of how far the government will go to protect the interests of its corporate sponsors,” he said.

Cross is also facing court over a climate protest.

Harley and Burrow mounted a “climate emergency” defence in their case.

This defence is based on an argument that what might be criminal action in other circumstances is not criminal when trying to prevent a bigger crime.

For example, it may be illegal in most circumstances to deliberately break a shop window, but such action is not illegal when required to prevent a more serious crime (such as murder).

Palestine solidarity activists in Britain successfully used similar arguments to avoid prosecution over protests involving damage to Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems.

Fossil fuel companies' wilful destruction of a liveable climate is undoubtedly a bigger crime than any charge levelled against climate protesters. According to Rojahn, Woodside's profits are the “proceeds of crime against climate and culture”.

Harley told Green Left: “It is vital that we keep on using [the climate emergency] defence because eventually a magistrate will be forced to listen”.

She described the solidarity she had received: “All our fines were crowd funded, which allows activists to keep on going”. Every action creates “ripples in the pond and eventually we will win,” she said.

Cross also paid tribute to climate activists who are “willingly facing the brunt of these draconian anti-protest policies” telling Green Left: “Their bravery in the face of this adversity is an inspiration to climate activists and concerned citizens world wide”.

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