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Climate activist who blocked Sydney Harbour Bridge sentenced to 15 months

This is the first case where a protester has been convicted under the Roads Amendment (Major Bridges and Tunnels) Regulation which carries harsher penalties for 'illegal protests'

A climate activist who partially blocked Sydney Harbour Bridge was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Friday. 

Deanna “Violet” Coco was sentenced with a non-parole period of eight months for her role in a climate protest which involved the stoppage of peak-hour traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April. 

The protest was part of a Fireproof Australia movement and blocked one of the five city-bound lanes for 25 minutes in a bid to raise awareness of climate change. Coco drove a large hire truck along Cahill Expressway, stood on top of the truck and lit an emergency flare while live-streaming the event.

She pleaded guilty to seven charges, including using an authorised explosive not as prescribed, resisting a police officer during arrest and interfering with the safe operation of a bridge.

News of Coco’s arrest has fallen under public criticism by other environmental groups and activists who have condemned the arrest as a result of ‘draconian anti-protest laws’  which were passed in April this year

Under this legislation, the NSW government increased punishments for non-violent protesters where people could be fined up to $22,000 and/or jailed for a maximum of two years for protesting illegally on public roads, rail lines, tunnels, bridges and industrial estates. 

Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill described conditions where protesters are “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”, she said. 

Magistrate Allison Hawkins, who presided over the case, described Coco’s actions as “childish” and “selfish”. She said the protester let the “entire city suffer” and she knew of the consequences to the illegal demonstration.

Coco’s lawyer Mark Davis spoke to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), relaying his disappointment with the sentence and the move to challenge the decision on appeal.

Davis called it “outrageous” that his client had been refused bail before her appeal was heard.

“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 refuted the police’s claim which alleged the protest blocked an ambulance with its sirens on, and argued his client deliberately planned to not block all traffic and other lanes of traffic were able to move in the same direction. 

Coco’s case is the first where a person will be imprisoned under the new Roads Act Amendment, “which is essentially being properly seen as an anti-protest law”, Davis said. 

The activist is a member of climate activist groups including Extinction Rebellion and Fireproof Australia. She was denied bail at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court following her sentencing on Friday and will remain in custody till her appeal hearing in March. 

There will be a protest to free environmentalist Violet Coco and to repeal the anti-protest laws on Monday 5 December outside NSW Parliament at 1pm.