NSW anti-protest laws put non-violent climate activist in jail

December 2, 2022
Climate campaigner Violet CoCo and supporters outside court
Violet CoCo (second from left, bottom row) with climate activists and supporters outside the Sydney Magistrates Court on December 2. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The Sydney Magistrates Court sentenced climate activist Violet CoCo to 15 month’s prison on December 2 for blocking vehicles, possessing a bright light distress signal and refusing to comply with police directions in April.

A non-parole period was set for eight months.

CoCo pled guilty to three charges related to the April 13 action which blocked one lane of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She was arrested along with three others.

Fireproof Australia said that after the arrest, CoCo spent three days in a remand cell, and was denied food and toilet paper. She was allegedly threatened with sexual violence.

After that, she had to deal with draconian bail conditions, including 20 days under a 24-hour curfew, followed by 126 days with only 5–6 hours of freedom each day. The cumulative time she spent under curfew amounted to 84 days, or 12 weeks.

New South Wales’ repressive new anti-protest laws, introduced in April, allow for the harsh sentence. These laws made it an offence to block major roads, bridges and infrastructure, with penalties of up to $22,000 in fines and up to two year’s in prison.

In a statement, NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Josh Pallas said "Peaceful protest should never result in gaol time". 

"This state's ongoing repression of protestors through parliament passing harsher laws, police seeking draconian bail conditions and surveilling protestors and prosecutors seeking custodial sentences shows just how much contempt this government holds for protestors and the environment," Pallas said.

About 20 climate activists and supporters gathered outside the Magistrates Court to support CoCo and call for the anti-protest laws to be scrapped. Some held signs that read “defend the right to protest” and “climate defenders are not criminals”.

CoCo told Green Left before the sentencing she was “taking action in the interest of humanity and the planet”.

“When I understood the truth about the seriousness of the climate and ecological crisis I became profoundly afraid for the future of our lives on this planet.

“I am determined to help avert this crisis with everything that is available to me as an ordinary citizen.”

CoCo’s lawyers are appealing the sentence on March 2, 2023.

The solidarity action was supported by Extinction Rebellion, Sydney Knitting Nannas and Friends, 350.org, Environmental Defenders Office and others.

The City of Sydney unanimously passed a motion condemning the anti-protest laws a day before Coco’s sentencing,

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

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