In the latest attempt to intimidate forest protesters and restrict freedom of speech in Tasmania, the state government's Forestry Tasmania agency is suing forest activist Allana Beltran, who is also known as the "Weld Angel".
On March 29, 22-year-old Beltran was arrested for sitting silently, while dressed as an angel, on a five-metre tripod blocking the entrance to the Tahune Forest Airwalk tourism venture, in Weld Valley, south-west of Hobart. Her protest drew attention to the logging of old-growth forests in the Weld Valley.
Beltran pleaded guilty to committing a nuisance and failing to obey a police officer's direction. She was placed on a 12-month good behaviour bond that prohibits her from re-entering the Weld Valley.
In early September, the police lodged an application for Beltran to pay them for what they claimed amounted to $2870 worth of time lost by police officers in removing her from the road in March. Forestry Tasmania also lodged a claim of almost $6200 in civil damages against Beltran.
On September 20, Tasmanian Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie announced that the police had dropped their claim after being advised by the acting solicitor-general that their claim against Beltran was "not well founded in law". .
Forestry Tasmania however vowed to continue with its claim, although it reduced the amount to $2000.
Unhappy with having to withdraw the police case, McCreadie, said he would seek a change to the law to enable police to recover costs from protesters. This proposed attack on people's right to protest has been widely condmned, including by the representatives of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, the Greens, the Tasmanian Council for Civil Liberties, gay and lesbian rights campaigners and the Socialist Alliance.
On October 4, Beltran turned up to the Hobart Magistrates Court where the Forestry Tasmania claim was to be heard. About 40 protesters were gathered in solidarity. The case was adjourned until November 6.
After emerging from the court, Beltran told Green Left Weekly: "I'll never stop speaking out about the destruction of Tasmania's ancient forests. With climate change and environmental destruction such a big issue, what I am most worried about is if we don't act now we'll lose our chance to be able to secure a safe future."
Greens parliamentary leader Peg Putt told GLW at the protest: "We've got to protect the right to civil disobedience. It's always made a difference over the ages and it's the fact that these protests are inconvenient that means there is a focus on the issue and that leads to change."
Matthew Holloway, Socialist Alliance candidate for Franklin and founding member of Tasmanians for Transparency, said: "Forestry Tasmania has obviously been busy taking a few lessons from Gunns about how to tie activists up in ongoing court cases."
He pointed to the law suits that have been filed by Gunns Ltd against environmental activists and organisations opposed to old-growth logging. While six individuals and organisations have been dropped from Gunns' suit, the remaining 14 have been caught up in a lengthy legal battle still to be heard in the Victorian Supreme Court.
Dr Frank Nicklason, who was one of the original Gunns 20 defendants, is now facing a separate lawsuit. Gunns has been seeking damages from Nicklason, a spokesperson for the Doctors for Forests group, for alleged comments he made in 2002 about the possible adverse health affects a woodchip stockpile at Burnie could have on local residents.
The Victorian Supreme Court struck out Gunns' claim against him last month, but the company has since submitted a new claim to the court.