A senior UN official has said he is “alarmed” that a peaceful Australian climate protester has been jailed for 15 months — and refused bail before her appeal — amid global outrage at her “disproportionate” punishment.
On Friday, Deanna “Violet” Coco was sentenced to 15 months in prison for blocking a single lane of traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April in a protest staged to draw attention to the global climate emergency.
“I am alarmed at a NSW court’s prison term against climate protestor Deanna Coco and refusal to grant bail until a March 2023 appeal hearing, ” UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly Clement Voule wrote online.
“Peaceful protesters should never be criminalised or imprisoned,” he wrote.
On 13 April, Coco and two members of climate activist group Fireproof Australia stopped two cars on the southbound Cahill Expressway on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They held banners and lit flares, live-streaming their protest and calling for urgent climate action.
The protesters blocked one of the bridge’s five city-bound lanes during the morning peak for about 25 minutes before they were removed by police.
On Friday, in Sydney’s Downing Centre local court, Coco pleaded guilty to seven charges before Magistrate Allison Hawkins, and was jailed for 15 months with a non-parole period of eight months.
She is to appeal against her sentence, but was refused bail on Friday and would remain in custody pending appeals.
A district court bail application is set to be heard on Dec. 13, with her full appeal to be heard on March 2 next year.
Coco’s lawyer, Mark Davis, said it was “outrageous” she had been refused bail before her appeal was heard, given she had been granted bail after her initial arrest, and had complied with all its requirements.
“It is just extraordinary to me,” Davis said. “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.”
Davis said his client deliberately planned not to block all traffic and that other lanes of traffic were able to move southbound during the protest.
Police alleged in court the protest blocked an ambulance responding to an emergency.
Coco had previously participated in several climate protests, including one in which an empty pram was set alight outside Parliament House.
A week before the bridge protest, Coco was arrested and charged for obstruction of the City West Link, also in Sydney.
Along with Voule, human rights groups around the world have expressed concern over the criminalization of democratic protest in Australia.
Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill said it was “clear climate protesters are being targeted for disproportionate punishment.”
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