Climate Change activist jailed for blocking Sydney Harbour Bridge

Clément Voule, UN official, raises alarm on the imprisoning of the Climate Change activist.

SYDNEY (3rd Dec 2022): The imprisonment of climate change activist Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco over blocking the Sydney Harbour Bridge has been widely criticized by Human Rights Groups around the world including by United Nations official, Clément Voule.

Taking to the social networking site, Twitter, the senior UN official expressed that he is “alarmed” at the imprisonment of the peaceful Australian climate change activist who has been jailed and has reportedly been refused bail before appeal. Human Rights groups have condemned the move saying that her punishment is “disproportionate”.

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According to international media reports, the climate activist was sentenced to 15 months in prison for blocking a traffic lane on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April. Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco blocked a part of the bridge in protest to raise awareness about the global climate emergency.

Following the sentencing on Friday, a UN special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Clément Voule tweeted that he is “alarmed at a NSW court’s prison term” against the climate activist. Voule added that protestors should “never be criminalized or imprisoned” for peaceful demonstrations.

According to The Guardian reports, Coco alongside two activists of the group Fireproof Australia stopped cars on the Cahill Expressway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on April 13. The activists held banners and lit flares while live-streaming their protest where they called for urgent climate action. They continued to block the lane for twenty-five minutes during the peak traffic hours of early morning before being removed by the police.

On Friday, the climate activist pled guilty to seven charges before Magistrate Allison Hawkins of the Downing Centre local court and was sentenced to 15 months in jail with a non-parole period of eight months. According to reports, her appeal is set to be heard on 2nd March 2023.

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Mark Davis lawyer for Cococ said that it was “outrageous” she has been denied bail. Davis added, “You always get appeals bail unless you’re a violent offender and you haven’t abided by the terms of your bail”. Davis stated during the months that Coco had been on bail, “she had done everything – always attended court”. He argued that his client had deliberately blocked only one lane and allowed traffic to pass during the peaceful protest.

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Apart from the UN’s Voule, human rights groups have raised alarm over the criminalization of the climate activist. Sophie McNeill of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that it is “clear climate protesters are being targeted”. Meanwhile, an HRW investigation found that climate change protestors are being subjected to “vindictive legal action by Australian authorities” restricting their “rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression”.

Phil Lynch, director of the International Service for Human Rights, has said that denying the right to peaceful climate protest is “illegal” under international law as governments in New South Wales, Tasmania, and Victoria introduce stricter punishments for non-violent protestors.

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