Climate activist who partially blocked Sydney Harbour Bridge traffic is jailed for 15 months

Lawyer says activist jailed to deter other protesters

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 02 December 2022 11:14 GMT
Related: Climate protesters glue themselves to London Stock Exchange

A climate crisis protester who partially blocked traffic on Sydney Harbour Bridge was sentenced to at least 15 months in prison on Friday.

Deanna “Violet” Coco, 31, was sentenced to prison with a non-parole period of eight months for what magistrate Allison Hawkins called “childish stunts” and “selfish emotional” actions.

Coco pleaded guilty to seven charges, including using an authorised explosive not as prescribed, possessing a bright light distress signal in a public place, and interfering with the safe operation of a bridge.

The activist was denied bail at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court after her sentencing on Friday and will remain in custody till her appeal hearing in March. She was also fined $2,500.

On 13 April, Coco drove a large hire truck along Cahill Expressway and purposefully blocked one of the five city-bound lanes for nearly 25 minutes. She then stood on top of the truck and lit an emergency flare while live-streaming the event.

Soon the police tried to forcibly remove the climate protesters which Coco tried to restrict. Court documents said she was "laying limp", which prompted authorities to remove her by force.

The protest stopped a New South Wales ambulance from attending to an emergency, the documents read.

“The actions today have not only caused serious disruption to peak-hour traffic, but this imposition to traffic prevented an ambulance responding to an emergency under lights and sirens as it was unable to navigate through the increased heavy traffic as previously mentioned,” the documents stated, according to ABC News.

“This imposition to a critical emergency service has the potential to result in fatality.”

Coco was granted bail after her arrest and completed all her bail requirements, her lawyer Mark Davis said.

Mr Davis defended his client saying only “one lane was blocked” which was a deliberate decision. “To put it simply, the traffic may have still been moving, there was no suggestion there was backup of traffic.”

Coco had acted out of “climate anxiety”, the lawyer said, adding that climate crisis-led anxiety is the “most prevalent anxiety” in his client’s generation.

“There may be an overwhelming threat of doom, they sense they aren’t being heard, the government isn’t doing enough, it’s leading to these types of actions,” he said.

Mr Davis said it was “outrageous” that his client was refused bail even before she was heard.

"It is just extraordinary to me,” Mr Davis was quoted by The Guardian as saying.

“You always get appeals bail unless you’re a violent offender and you haven’t abided by the terms of your bail. In the months she had been on bail she had done everything – always attended court.”

“This is totally disproportionate, it’s done to deter other protesters, in effect it’s sending a message,” Mr Davis said after the hearing.

Human rights groups issued alarms earlier this year when the New South Wales government increased punishments for non-violent protesters with inflated fines and up to two years in prison.

Sophie McNeill, the Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Climate protesters are being increasingly and disproportionately subjected to vindictive legal action by Australian authorities that is restricting the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.”

“Magistrates in New South Wales have been imposing harsh penalties and bail conditions on climate protesters that violate basic rights.”

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