Heavy-Handed Climate Arrests: An Interview With Extinction Rebellion Arrestee Lily Campbell

by Paul Gregoire

The Spring Rebellion climate demonstration blocked Sydney’s Broadway disrupting business as usual on Monday afternoon for over an hour. And, unsurprisingly, the NSW Police Public Order and Riot Squad was called in.

Around 500 Extinction Rebellion (XR) protesters were gathered along the major road artery leading out of Sydney’s CBD close to the vicinity of Central Park, chanting for greater climate justice, as government continues to greenlight environmental destruction in the name of profit.

Officers of the riot squad began moving their way through the crowd of demonstrators, who were seated on the road blocking traffic. The police ordered them to stand and move onto the footpath, in an attempt to clear the thoroughfare.

However, some XR mobilisers refused to rise. They continued to remain seated on the asphalt, risking their liberty in a bid to protect the planet. So, officers began zeroing in on each of them – one-by-one – lifting their captives off the road and dragging them towards the paddy wagon.

Extended detention

A total of 38 XR protesters were taken into custody on Monday afternoon. They included a scientist in his mid-70s, former Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, and Lily Campbell, a 22-year-old university student.

Ms Campbell had been MCing the demonstration, along with fellow XR activist David Kohn, who was also arrested. The young woman was dragged off by police at about 3 pm. However, she wasn’t released from police custody for another 27 hours.

The climate activist was charged with failure to comply with police directions at a roadblock, under section 39 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW). It carries a maximum penalty of $5,500 and/or 12 months inside.

The reason Ms Campbell was held for so long is she refused to sign bail conditions that were draconian considering the minor charge. But, she stood her ground – despite having to spend the night in prison – until a magistrate intervened.

Spring Rebellion

The understanding of the climate emergency that life on Earth is facing is growing every day. Extinction Rebellion began in the UK in October last year. And it’s spread to such an extent that actions are taking place around the globe over a two week period at present.

Meanwhile, the Morrison government seems hellbent on rubber stamping projects that compound the crisis, as if it was following the doctrine of some strange cult that was heralding in the destruction of the planet.

Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke with Lily Campbell about why there’s been complaints regarding the treatment of climate arrestees, how at least 44 protesters – so far – have willingly been taken into custody as part of the ongoing actions, and her plans to continue the struggle for Earth.

Firstly, you were released at 6 pm on Tuesday evening, after spending 27 hours in police custody over a minor charge. Why were you detained for so long? 

Because the police want to intimidate climate protesters, and make you feel like you’re a criminal if you stand up to the destruction that’s going on all across the world.

They want to make people feel that if you protest and speak up then you are a criminal. It’s totally outrageous.

It was completely flaunting the law. There’s no magistrate that would have given me the same bail conditions that the police did over such a minor charge.

So, their whole purpose was to frame Extinction Rebellion as a criminal group and to frame protesters as criminals. That’s something that we are seeing all over the country right now.

So, they prolonged your detainment because you refused to sign some extreme bail conditions, as you just mentioned. What were they?

There were four of them. The first one was you have to stay outside of a 2.5 kilometre radius of the CBD until your court date, which was due to be on 31 October, according to their plans. So, I was not allowed to be in the CBD at all.

The second was that I was not allowed to go to any Extinction Rebellion protests. The third was I was not allowed to associate with anyone in Extinction Rebellion. And the last was a good behaviour bond.

You refused to sign them, but you were eventually released. What happened there? 

I refused to sign those bail conditions, because they were extremely onerous, bikie-type conditions that are trying to frame Extinction Rebellion as a criminal group.

So, I refused, because they were totally ridiculous. When I refused, they said I was going to gaol for the night. I said, “So be it.”

I was held in a bright neon lit holding cell until 3.30 am, at which point I was moved into the gaol. I spent the rest of the time in a gaol cell.

When I was in gaol, I got a phone call from Legal Aid. And I was taken before a bail court. The magistrate immediately threw out my bail conditions and granted me immediate bail without conditions. And I have a court date for 15 October.

There have been complaints about the heavy-handedness of police from some of those who were arrested. What did that involve? 

The police were extremely heavy-handed – both with people my age, but also in their 70s – in order to intimidate people who wanted to block the road for climate justice.

What it involved was bending people’s wrists severely. Pressing people’s thumbs into their hands to force people to stand up. And they threatened that if I continued not to walk, then they would continue bending back my wrist further and further until I complied.

I was refused food for hours. And they didn’t tell me the time once the whole time I was there, despite me continuing to ask for it.

Why’d you put yourself on the line like that? 

The answer is there is no option but to rebel against this system. It’s so outrageous that climate protesters can be locked up and charged, when what’s happening right now is the greatest crime of all time.

It’s the destruction of the planet. The destruction of the environment. It’s the destruction of the planet that we all live on to survive in the interest of the profits of a few. And that’s not considered a crime.

The fact that there’s methane gas flowing out of the Arctic right now that’s going to pollute the atmosphere. The fact that the Amazon is still on fire, and all of these rainforests in Indonesia are on fire constantly.

That’s not considered a crime, despite the fact that it will impact the whole of humanity in the interests of such a tiny minority. This is considered the normal way of the world. And yet, what I did is considered a crime.

So, why did I do it? It was to draw attention to the climate crisis, and to build a movement for climate justice.

But also, I refused the bail conditions, because I refuse to accept that protesting against the criminal injustice of the system is a crime in itself.

Peter Dutton wants climate activists to face mandatory sentencing, while Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has vowed to pass laws that would see your fellow protesters on Monday who locked themselves inside a water tank sent to prison.

What do you think about these responses from politicians?

Totally outrageous. It is an insanity. It is 1984-style repression. The whole aim of it is to put forward an image of climate protesters as criminals, when we know the real criminals are Annastacia Palaszczuk and Peter Dutton.

They’re shifting the blame of the destruction of the world onto ordinary people who seek to do something about it.

So, these are Orwellian laws that definitely should not be happening and are a product of these people seeking to benefit from the profits of the coal bosses and the fossil fuel industry.

Climate protesters should be ready to fight that kind of repression all the way.

And lastly, will your arrest stop you from demonstrating in the future? Ms Campbell, what do you plan to do from here?

It definitely will not stop me from demonstrating. I got out of all my bail conditions. And I’m planning on protesting for climate justice until the end, as long as we can. This is the greatest issue of our times.

There is a series of protests happening all across the country for the next two weeks, and all across the world in association with Extinction Rebellion.

People should get involved. I’m going to be involved. I encourage people to join the movement, because it’s the only option we have.

Further information about the protest actions Lily is referring to can be found here

Author

Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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