Two masked and camouflaged police, discovered by Blockade Australia (BA) activists hiding on private property in Colo, west of Sydney, on June 19, claimed to be in fear of their lives. But, witnesses said they sped off in an unmarked car.
Activists said they found the two men in a bush, asked them who they were and overheard them saying into a radio: “We’re compromised.” This was at 8.30am.
Shortly after, an unmarked police car drove onto the property and dozens of police stormed the site. BA activists tried to slow the vehicle down, but it careered through people, injuring two. Some activists fled into nearby bush. By 11am, police had detained 40 activists and arrested seven.
Jonah Shabtay, a BA spokesperson, told Green Left that the police operation was “total overkill”.
“We are peaceful activists, dedicated to protecting earth’s life support systems. No person has ever been harmed during a BA action.
“The police confiscated our phones and belongings, than released us into the cold night. It was freezing. One activist wasn’t picked up from the bush until 5.30am the next day as they refused to call SES to help locate them.”
Greg Rolles, who was at the Colo gathering, told the ABC that BA activists had tried to find out who the men were, given that VicForests has been hiring private investigators to spy on activists.
“My instinct with the camo gear was that this is private security guards — that was my initial response.
“We even thought it could be some right-wing group who’d found out where we were.
“We were very scared about who these trespassers were on our property.”
The raid happened shortly after the New South Wales Coalition and Labor rammed through anti-protest laws, which include punishments for blocking roads or infrastructure ranging from $22,000 and/or 2 year’s jail.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) spokesperson Stephen Blanks said NSWCCL is concerned about “increasingly harsh and disproportionate laws and actions taken against political protestors in recent years.
“The legal right to peaceful protest is fundamental to our democracy. Protests hold governments to account and make our country better. The police need to take extra care to assure the community that their actions are justifiable.”
NSW Greens MP Abigail Boyd said the NSW Police’s preemptive raid “with 100 armed police, dogs and helicopters, on suspicion of planning a protest action, is a terrifying overreach and abuse of power against peaceful climate campaigners…
“The Greens utterly condemn this police action,” she said, adding, “We must resist this authoritarian creep towards a police state”.
Shabtay said the seven people who were arrested were taken to Hawkesbury Police Station and later transferred to the Amber Laurel Correctional Facilities.
“Five people were released on bail despite police opposition, after 48 hours in lock up,” he said. The punitive bail conditions include residing only at their designated bail address, reporting weekly to the local police station, remaining within the state and not entering the Sydney CBD.
BA said on June 22 that they have also been given unprecedented non-association orders which prevent them from interacting with certain people. “These are extremely controlling and unusual measures for non-violent activists, particularly given that no crimes were underway.”
Shabtay said the two activists who were denied bail are being held in Silverwater Correctional Complex until July 12. “One of the two has been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime. The crime he is alleged to have conspired to commit? Obstructing traffic.”
In the days after the raid, another activist was arrested by plain-clothed police at a Sydney train station.
BA is the final stages of planning its Sydney climate action from June 27–July 2. It is calling on all those who want faster action on climate change to join the convergence “to halt the system that is endlessly expanding, exploiting and destroying”.
[Blockade Australia has set up a Chuffed fund for donations.]