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Climate activist Violet Coco’s jail term overturned on appeal

Judge Mark Williams heard evidence that she had been imprisoned on false information from NSW Police.

Credit: Elliot Lawry

A district court judge quashed on Wednesday Violet Coco’ the 15-month jail sentence received after blocking traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April 2022 as part of an environmental protest.

Coco received a 12-month conditional release order in the Downing Centre Court, after Judge Mark Williams heard evidence that she had been imprisoned on false information from NSW Police.

Coco was initially sentenced on the basis that her protest blocked an ambulance en route to an emergency, as NSW Police claimed. Police retracted this claim last week after acknowledging there was insufficient evidence to support this claim.

The judge said that he accepted Coco was not a danger to the community and withdrew all but two of her convictions, resisting police and using an unauthorised explosive.

Fellow activist Alan Russell Glover, who aided Coco in the 2022 Harbour Bridge protest, also successfully appealed his community corrections order and $3,000 fine, after he was sentenced earlier this month.

These cases mark a huge win in the ongoing battle against anti-protest laws established in March 2022 under which peaceful protesters may be jailed and fined. Violet Coco was the first individual to be charged with this type of offence.

More than 100 activists from across the country gathered outside the courthouse in anticipation of the hearing, including members of USyd SRC, Lily Campbell, Maddie Clark and UNSW Education Officer Cherish Kuehlmann who was recently arrested and charged with aggravated trespassing during a protest outside the Reserve Bank of Australia.

Campbell, who helped facilitate the rally, called out the NSW Government’s crackdown on protest action through extreme bail conditions that prevent participation.

“We need more people like Violet who are willing to break unjust laws, who are willing to march anyway, to fight the police state and organise for real climate justice,” she said.

Kuehlmann echoed Campbell’s sentiment, adding that protest for all social justice issues is under threat with the provisional powers given to police and courts through the state’s anti-protest laws. 

“Bipartisan support from the Liberal and Labor parties has given the go-ahead to New South Wales police to lock up activists with any charge they can think of,” she said.

“Not only this but restrictive bail conditions are consciously being weaponised by magistrates to repress activists from gathering and entering the city in order to exercise our democratic right to protest.”

Across the road from the rally, Coco waved and smiled in solidarity with protesters, whom she could not join since her bail terms forbade organised activism.

Speaking outside the court, Coco said she wanted to “call the police out for their lies”.

“My body was awash with relief. We need to protect our right to protest, justice was served today,” she said.

Present outside the court was NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge, who addressed the rally by calling shame on the NSW police, Premier Dominic Perrotet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns for enabling the arrest of Coco and her fellow activists. 

“We are about to see the NSW Police go in there and apologise and grovel to the court for lying to the court, for lying to the people of NSW, and creating a fiction about an ambulance designed to play into a political moment and justify bad laws while putting a young woman in jail,” he said.