Over 230 Civil Society Groups Condemn NSW Government’s Anti-Protest Regime

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Violet Coco sentencing

More than 230 civil society organisations have joined together to condemn the sentencing of local climate defender Violet Coco to 15 months imprisonment for staging a nonviolent direct action that involved the blocking of one lane of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 25 minutes in April this year.

Coordinated by Counteract, Wage Peace and other grassroots activists, a diverse coalition of organisations have made known, via an open letter, that they not only condemn Coco’s prison sentence, but further the Perrottet government’s anti-protest regime, which led to this dramatic escalation in punishing nonviolent climate protest.

The signatories include the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Maritime Union of Australia, the National Justice Project, Amnesty, Liberty Victoria, Extinction Rebellion, Pride in Protest and Free Gaza Australia.

“We reject the claim from premier Perrottet that protest should not inconvenience people and are concerned about the message this sends in a democracy,” the letter reads.

The organisations go on to underscore that “peaceful but disruptive” protests are what guaranteed key aspects of daily life that we now take for granted, such as voting rights and the eight hour work day. And they further outline that the new regime impinges upon basic human rights.

United in resistance

An in the flesh version of the open letter occurred on Tuesday this week, when representatives from many of the signatory groups gathered before the Downing Centre courts to rally in support of Violet Coco who was applying for bail pending her appeal in March.

On 2 December, NSW Magistrate Allison Hawkins sentenced Coco to at least 8 months imprisonment and denied her bail. However, on the 13th, District Court Judge Timothy Gartelmann granted bail.

Meanwhile, on the steps of the courthouse, hundreds of protesters listened to a number of speakers deliver messages of resistance, which, taken together, conveyed that rather than serve to see an end to the climate movement, a broader base has been solidified in response to the new laws.

The Perrottet government jammed through these laws with bipartisan approval in early April, which now see peaceful protesters that block a bridge, tunnel, road or major facility without prior authorisation from the authorities facing up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a $22,000 fine.

Violating human rights

The open letter further notes that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly Clement Voule expressed his outrage over Coco’s incarceration, stating that “peaceful protesters should never be criminalised or imprisoned”.

Indeed, this sentiment has been repeatedly expressed at various rallies in support of Coco over recent weeks, as those addressing the crowds have made clear that the NSW government’s authoritarian laws are at odds with international human rights law.

As part of the open letter, NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Josh Pallas outlined that the crackdown on protest has involved “parliament passing harsher laws, police seeking draconian bail conditions and surveilling protestors, and prosecutors seeking custodial sentences”.

This “shows just how much contempt this government holds for protestors and the environment”, Pallas makes clear. “The repression of peaceful protestors must end.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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