Australia has been criticised by a senior member of the United Nations for the jailing of a climate protester.
On Friday, Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco has been sentenced to 15 months in prison, with a no parole period of eight months. She was also fined $2500. Coco’s application for bail was also denied, despite her mother offering a $10,000 surety.
This comes after Coco pleaded guilty to seven charges including possessing a distress signal in a public place, interfering with safe operation of a bridge, resisting a police officer during an arrest and using or modifying an authorised explosive not as prescribed.
On April 13, 2022, the Sydney woman blocked a lane of traffic with a hired truck at the Cahill Expressway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during peak hour at 8.30am. The 28-minute protest was lifestreamed and done with other demonstrators from Extinction Rebellion and Fireproof Australia.
However, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly, Clement Voule condemned the decision.
“I am alarmed at #NSW court’s prison term against #ClimateProtester Deanna Coco and refusal to grant bail until a March 2023 appeal hearing,” he tweeted on Friday.
“Peaceful protesters should never be criminalised or imprisoned.”
Mr Voule is one of the many voices criticising the penalty which many have deemed as being disproportionate and overly harsh.
“Outrageous decision just now in a Sydney court Climate activist Violet Coco given 15 month sentence, eight months no parole after she blocked 1 lane of the Harbour Bridge for 25 mins in April,” tweeted journalist and Australian researcher for the Human Rights Watch, Sophie McNeill.
“It’s clear climate protesters are being targeted for disproportionate punishment.”
Another Twitter user said the sentencing was “an outrageous abuse of power.”
“Our govt’s are becoming increasingly autocratic in nature,” he tweeted.
“My gratitude to Deanna Coco for what she’s doing for our planet.”
‘Selfish emotional actions:’ Coco lashed in court
Appearing at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on Friday, Magistrate Allison Hawkins criticised the 31-year-old’s “childish stunts” and “selfish emotional” actions. During the protest, an ambulance was unable to attend an emergency call due to the traffic, despite deploying lights and sirens.
“You knew this was illegal, you knew you would be arrested and you knew there would be consequences,” said Ms Hawkins.
“You do damage to your cause when you do childish stunts like this. Why should they be disrupted by your selfish emotional actions?”
“You are not a political prisoner, you are a criminal.”
Premier defends decision
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the sentencing was “pleasing to see”.
“If protesters want to put our way of life at risk then they should have the book thrown at them,” he said.
In April, Mr Perrottet’s government introduced strengthened anti-protest laws in which individuals who block or disrupt a road, tunnel, bridge or a major facility without prior authorisation is liable to up to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of $22,000. Previously, the punishment was a fine of $440.
Speaking to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, deputy mayor of the City of Sydney Sylvie Ellsmore, said the laws were designed to frighten and scare.
“In particular, the new laws are designed to intimidate protesters at a time, when the community is screaming out that the NSW Liberal government and the federal government is to take faster action to address climate change,” she said.
“It’s really hard not to see these actions as a deliberate tactic by the state to intimidate and discourage peaceful protest and to intimidate and discourage people talking about climate change and the need for government to do more than they’re currently doing.”