Violet Coco: Climate activist’s jailing ignites?

Deanna Coco (Violet) blocked traffic from the Sydney Harbour Bridge for 28 minutes in April. This called for more action to combat climate change.

She would have to spend 15 months in prison for those 28 minutes.

Coco was sentenced to jail by an Australian judge last week for violating traffic laws, lighting flares and refusing to obey police orders.

Magistrate Allison Hawkins stated that the climate activist had caused “entire cities to suffer” by her “selfish emotional acts.” You do irresponsible acts like these to damage your cause.

Coco will be eligible to parole in eighteen months. However, her lawyer plans on challenging the sentence which he calls “extraordinarily severe” and “baseless”.

“There are five lanes across that bridge. Mark Davis, a BBC reporter, said that she blocked one and it wasn’t for long. He pointed out that her coaccused escaped jail.

“This is almost without precedent.”

The case’s outcome quickly caused a commotion. Small protests were organized across Australia and the sentence was condemned both by human rights groups as well as some politicians.

Sophie McNeill, Human Rights Watch researcher, said that the case sends out a horrible message to the world.

She said that she was always calling for authoritarian governments not to jail peaceful protesters and that they should treat them with respect. “But” Australia, which is supposed to be the leader in human rights in the region, jails peaceful activists.

Clement Voule, UN special rapporteur for peaceful assembly, stated that he was “alarmed” by Coco’s sentence.

He stated that peaceful protesters should not be imprisoned or criminalized.

Others disagree. Many Australians disagree.

New South Wales’ state government (NSW), stated that it was “on the side” of climate change action, but couldn’t allow anarchist protesters to “bring this place to a halt”.

Premier Dominic Perrottet praised Coco’s arrest and said this week: “If protesters are willing to put our way to life at risk, then they should be thrown to the wall.”

David Shoebridge, a political opponent, responded: “Wait until the premier hears how bad climate change will place our way of living at risk.”

Alister Henskens, Coco’s uncle and a minister in state government, also supported the decision. He said that “nobody is above law.” Both sides were flooded with similar comments on social media.

Coco posted a video online stating that she doesn’t want to protest like this but that the climate emergency requires “getting in peoples’ way”.

She said, “Obviously, it’s uncomfortable and not fun, but it’s necessary because lives are at risk.”

Some argue that Coco’s case highlights a wider crackdown on nationwide protests.

She was among the first to be sentenced by new state laws that impose harsher penalties on protests against critical infrastructure such as roads, tunnels, bridges, and rail lines.

Victoria and Tasmania introduced earlier this year laws that increased jail sentences and fines to some types of obstructive demonstrations.

Many controversy-making moments have occurred during the pandemic era. Hundreds were arrested, some for violent offenses, while protesting against Australia’s strict lockdown rules.

Two women from Melbourne who organized a peaceful Black Lives Matter march were also charged with violating public health regulations.

These crackdowns could undermine the faith of some Australians in the country’s liberal democracy protections, according to Ron Levy, a law and politics researcher.

He says that Australia is a utilitarian society, which tends to place the “public good above individual rights. This means that laws such as these are often popularly supported.

Dr Levy said to the BBC that it may be possible that there are more physical consequences to your speech than we want to protect it.

Ms McNeill insists that the problem isn’t whether lawbreakers can’t get punished; it’s the disproportionate nature of the punishments.

She says that people who are charged with drunk driving or assault, drug offences, do not receive any custodial sentences. Fines or suspended sentences may be given. But Violet Coco is a peaceful climate activist and has been granted 15 months.”

Ms McNeill is one of those who believes the laws are politically motivated and are specifically designed to intimidate climate activists.

They may chill protests, regardless of who they are targeting.

Dr Levy believes that the courts could intervene to repeal legislation. Two women from NSW have already applied to the High Court of Australia for this.

It’s happened before. Australia’s highest court declared earlier versions of Tasmania’s laws unconstitutional in 2017.

Experts say that similar laws have been upheld by higher courts. Two anti-abortion activists were unsuccessful in challenging laws that prohibited them from protesting within 150m radius of abortion clinics.

“The law’s tailorability is what makes a decision – is it too specific, too broad? Dr. Levy said.

He says that the use of severe jail sentences will be a major issue.

“As a former prosecutor, I can tell that prison time should only be used in very limited circumstances.” This seems extreme.

Davis stated that the “real slap”, was that Davis’ client was not granted bail prior to her appeal. This is unusual for a nonviolent offender.

“You have to be a very monstrous person to deny it.”

Next week, he will contest the bail decision. However, he claims Coco is “stuck inside a cell”.


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