Free Violet CoCo, defend the right to protest

A Solidarity rally with Violet CoCo, in Sydney on December 5. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Climate activists rallied on December 5 to defend the right to protest and free Violet CoCo, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for blocking one lane of traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April.

More than 200 people attended the passionate protest, many holding signs reading “Defend the right to protest”, “Say no to repression” and “Free Violet now”.

Outside New South Wales Parliament, climate activists, unionists, human rights defenders and local MPs spoke against the NSW government’s draconian anti-protest laws.

The laws, which Labor supported, threaten activists with up to two years’ jail and fines of up to $22,000 for undertaking certain actions, such as blocking roads.

Jay Larbalestier, a climate activist who narrowly avoided jail time for taking part in the Fireproof Australia (FA) action with CoCo, told the protest that “Violet’s actions were anything but selfish”, referring to the judge’s comments during sentencing.

“Her deep desire to protect the community was motivating Violet that day,” he said. “This is someone who has put their studies and their life on hold to fight for a safe future for everyone, despite deep personal cost.”

He said CoCo had spent the last several months helping flood victims rebuild their homes in Lismore.

“We demand a just outcome for Violet and an end to the criminalisation of protest.”

Veronica Koman from Amnesty International told the rally that “climate is the greatest ever threat to human life”. Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer who has been forced into exile for supporting justice in West Papua, said the ruling against CoCo is “completely disproportionate and against international human rights law”.

The rally was organised by the Sydney Climate Coalition, which involves more than 40 climate, civil and migrant groups, including Extinction Rebellion (XR), Sydney Knitting Nannas and Friends, School Strike 4 Climate, Water for Rivers, Workers for Climate Action, Pride in Protest, Socialist Alliance and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

Other speakers included Eurydice Aroney from the Knitting Nannas, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney branch organiser Shane Reside, City of Sydney Deputy Mayor Sylvie Ellsmore, Bonnie Cassen from Firepoof Australia, XR member Lil, Anastasia Radievska from Legal Observers and Lia Perkins, president of the University of Sydney Student Representative Council.

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Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Rally co-chair Rachel Evans said the NSW government, police and courts are “using jail as a deterrent to peaceful protest and this has to stop”.

Protesters marched to the Downing Centre Local and District Court, where CoCo was sentenced, and gathered on the steps for more speeches.

A heavy police presence tried but failed to intimidate protesters from marching down Castlereagh Street.

Rallies supporting CoCo and defending the right to protest were organised in Melbourne and Perth.

Another solidarity action has been called for December 13 at 9am outside the Downing Centre courts, where CoCo faces her bail hearing.

[A chuffed fundraiser has been set up to support CoCo.]