Deanna “Violet” Coco is paying dearly for blocking a lane of rush hour traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April for 28 minutes. This month the Australian climate activist was sentenced to 15 months in prison.
Coco pleaded guilty to seven charges, including breaching traffic laws, disobeying police orders and lighting a flare. Magistrate Allison Hawkins said Coco made the “entire city suffer” with her “selfish emotional actions,” as reported by the BBC. “You do damage to your cause when you do childish stunts like this.”
The sentence has drawn international criticism. Protests have popped up around Australia. Humans rights groups say Coco’s punishment sends a terrible message to other peaceful protestors.
In eight months, Coco will be eligible for parole. But her lawyer, as well as many others, thinks that’s eight months too long. Lawyer Mark Davis called the sentence baseless and extraordinarily harsh and plans to challenge it.
“There are five lanes on that bridge,” he said, as reported by the BBC. “She blocked one, and not for very long.”
This wasn’t Coco’s first brush with the law. She’d been involved in a climate protest where someone set a pram alight outside the parliament house. The week preceding the bridge protest, she was arrested after obstructing the City West Link, a major road in Sydney.
Coco has been denied bail before her appeal, which is unusual for a nonviolent offender.
“You’ve normally got to be a pretty monstrous person to be denied,” said Davis, as reported by The Guardian.
Coco’s case is part of a nationwide crackdown on protests. New state laws have recently been passed requiring harsher penalties when protestors involve critical infrastructure like bridges, tunnels, roads and rail lines. During the pandemic, hundreds of people were arrested for protesting Australia’s COVID lockdown. Black Lives Matters protestors have also been involved in Australian court cases.
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