Draconian sentencing of climate activists needs to end

December 13, 2022
Supporting Violet CoCo outside her bail hearing on December 13. Photo: Rachel Evans

Climate activist Violet CoCo’s 15-month jail sentence on December 2 has caused widespread outrage. But the jailing of climate protesters has been underway for several years.

More than 15 environment activists have been placed on remand, or jail, over the last three years. Thirty eight activists were arrested at an Extinction Rebellion action on October 7, 2019, with Lily Campbell being placed in the Surry Hills Cells Complex on remand overnight.

“Remand” is when a court orders someone to be detained before they have been sentenced by a court. Detention on remand can be inside a prison, police or court cell or psychiatric facility.

Andy George, a Fireproof activist, who ran onto a National Rugby League football field on April 10 carrying a Fireproof banner and holding up a flare, was sentenced to three months’ jail. He told Green Left he was jailed for 17 days in Silverwater jail.

Wenzel and Sergio, environment activists, were put into prison in December 2020 for taking part in Extinction Rebellion (XR) action in Brisbane, George said.

“They were denied bail and placed in jail for taking peaceful action to raise awareness.”

ER activists took a range of actions in Canberra in August last year and were also placed in remand. “It is really like being in jail.”

George said Lesley and Violet were twice put into the remand centre in Canberra for calling on the government to take real climate action. “Then Sergio, Nick, Mark, Ross and myself were all in remand [for more than a week] for also taking part in these actions.”

Frontline Action on Coal activists Kyle Magee and Juliet Lamont were sent to jail last November for a week after disrupting work at coal ports in Mackay and Adani’s North Queensland Export Terminal in Bowen. They were released on November 9.

Eric “Sergio” Herbert, a 22 year-old activist, was sentenced last November to a year in prison for breaching a Community Corrections order. His non-violent direct action was part of BA’s two-week mobilisation against coal.

Sergio was found to breach the order by walking through a national park. Lawyers successfully appealed the draconian prison sentence on June 8.

In the wave of repression meted out to Newcastle activists, police also seized a woman’s car, arguing she had used it to drive her boyfriend to protests. Police intended to destroy the car, but lawyers successfully overturned that order.

Blockade Australia (BA) activist Max Curmi was given four months’ jail and fined $1500 in March after BA organised five days of action at Sydney’s Port Botany, stopping cargo coming in.

The week before the New South Wales government passed draconian anti-protest laws, which made it legal to jail and fine environmental protesters.

Curmi spent two weeks in jail and was released under strict “non association” bail conditions, including that he not communicate with any other BA activist.

George told GL that a German activist, who had taken part in the Port Botany action, was placed in Villawood Detention Centre and their temporary working visa was cancelled. BA believes he was deported.

Climate scientist Martin Wolterding was placed in Surry Hills remand overnight after a Fireproof action on April 7, in which traffic was stooped in Lilyfield.

A week later, as punishment for taking part in the Fireproof action on Sydney’s Harbour Bridge on April 13, 2022, Violet CoCo, Jay Labalestier, Alan Glover and Karen Fitzgibbon were also taken to the jail at the Surry Hills Cells Complex.

Labalestier told GL that “remand was pretty terrible”.

“I was strip searched and yelled at by a police officer. A lot of desperate people were in remand. Being in Surry Hills was worse than being in Silverwater, which is where I was transferred for two days until released on bail. I was then put under house arrest for forty-two days,” Labalestier said.

In the lead up to BA’s week of action, police raided a house in Colo on June 18. Curmi and Tim Neville spent more than three weeks in Silverwater jail and later had to agree to onerous bail conditions.

CoCo's sentence is the longest sentence given to any climate activist in recent history. Her bail hearing is on December 13.

[Donations to Violet’s legal costs can be made here.]

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