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‘Peaceful protest is not a crime’: Activists oppose Violet CoCo’s conviction

'The police and the courts are using jail as a deterrent to peaceful protests and this has to stop.'

Photos by Zebedee Parkes.

Over one hundred activists gathered outside NSW Parliament House on Tuesday to protest the conviction of Deanna “Violet” Coco, who was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Friday.

The snap rally was organised by more than fifteen activist groups including Extinction Rebellion, School Strike 4 Climate and the USyd Students’ Representative Council (SRC).

Rachel Evans, the co-convenor of Socialist Alliance and an Extinction Rebellion member, co-chaired the rally alongside Shannon Langford Salisbury, producer of The Pilliga Project documentary.

“The police and the courts are using jail as a deterrent to peaceful protests and this has to stop. Our count is that up to ten environmentalists have been placed in jail over the last two years across Australia,” Evans said.

Human rights lawyer Veronica Koman identified the climate crisis as “the greatest ever threat to human rights.” They said that their position is shared by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, which they are affiliated with.

Eurydice Aroney of the Knitting Nannas read out a statement from fellow activist Marie Flood, which highlighted the importance of the upcoming state election.

“Now is the time to approach your candidates… ask them if re-elected or elected, ‘would you move to repeal the Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Act?’” Aroney said, referring to the bill that Coco was arrested for violating.

Greens Deputy Mayor of Sydney, Sylvie Ellsmore, spoke about the City of Sydney Council’s unanimous vote to support the right to peaceful protest and called on the NSW government to repeal its anti-protest laws.

“A democracy that looks like this is not a democracy we want to support. You are the ones that fight back and say no, willing to put your bodies on the line to peacefully protest about things that are so important,” Ellsmore said.

Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch Organiser Shane Reside spoke to the need for activists to protest the existing protest laws before they become more stringent.

“If we allow Violet to be locked up for her demonstration… [the anti-protest laws] are going to expand and they’re going to get worse,” Reside said.

Jay, an activist from Fireproof Australia, spoke in solidarity with Violet’s selfless work and relentless climate activism. They were one of the other protesters who blocked the Harbour Bridge last year with Coco and called her “a force of nature in the climate movement.”

The editor of New Bush Telegraph Bonnie Cassen criticised the State for supporting the massive fossil fuel industry. She said that Coco is a “political prisoner” and that her cause is “a liveable future for the planet.”

Lia Perkins, SRC President, said that the arrest of peaceful protestors like Coco ignores “who is at fault for the climate crisis.

“Ordinary people did not cause the climate crisis. It is corporations who have exploited the planet and just destroy sacred indigenous sites,” said Perkins.

Another action will be held on outside the Downing Centre on 13 December, when Coco is set to appear at a bail hearing.

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