MELBOURNE, Australia — When climate protesters took to the streets of Sydney this week, including blocking Sydney’s busiest traffic tunnel for more than an hour, they faced the wrath of government officials who called them “professional pests” and warned them Will see “The book was thrown at them.”
The 24 people arrested in this week’s protests in the state face up to two years in prison and fines of up to $15,000 under a new state law passed in April that covers protests that disrupt economic activity . Previously, fines were up to $400, with no jail time.
Human rights activists and legal groups are now questioning whether the law imposes too harsh punishments for nonviolent protests and is mainly used against climate activists.
Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill said of the new law: “This is indeed a worrying trend across Australia, showing that protest movements are increasingly becoming a disproportionate share of Australian authorities. The goal.”
She added that climate protesters were “disproportionately exposed to retaliatory legal action and excessive police attention”.
The NSW government, of which Sydney is the largest city, said it supported protests and climate change action within reason.
“Protests themselves are not illegal when authorized,” a spokesman for the state’s police minister Paul Tour said in an email. “However, tethering yourself to the steering wheel of a car to block access to tunnels and roads, or planning similar behaviour, will not be tolerated.”
No protesters have yet been jailed under the new law.
Protesters in Sydney from block australia, is one of several activist groups under the spotlight for disrupting transport and business in NSW. They blocked roads, hoisted themselves from bridges and climbed onto cranes and freight trains to protest what they said was the government’s inaction on climate change.
During a wave of protests in March, when activists disrupted activity at a major port and blocked a busy bridge, the state government hastily passed new legislation to increase protection against damage to major roads, ports and train stations. Punishment for protests.
The bill passed with broad support, including the opposition Labour Party, but was denounced by the Greens as “extremely anti-democratic”.
Other states will follow similar laws. In Tasmania, legislation is being developed that will impose tougher penalties, including jail time, on protesters who cause inconvenience to businesses. In Victoria, a proposal tabled in parliament would allow protesters trying to stop deforestation in certain deforestation to be sentenced to up to a year in prison.
While the laws do not directly target climate activists and cover any form of illegal protest, human rights groups say they were introduced in response to climate change protests.
The NSW government has Say The new law “strikes the right balance between freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest and people’s right to continue their lives in safety.” The law protects strikers and protesters who have police-sanctioned demonstrations — while groups like Block Australia do not .
“There is a highly recognized way of protesting,” the state’s acting assistant police chief Paul Dunstan said Monday. “There are ways to do this, but the way they are doing it today is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
He said protesters had thrown bicycles and trash cans in the paths of police, journalists and pedestrians in a “simply criminal act”.
Greg Barns, a criminal and human rights lawyer and a spokesman for criminal justice for the nation’s largest bar association, said protest laws should reflect a balance between free speech and political dissent, and ensure that demonstrations are not violent or inconvenient. “I think in Australia there is a tendency for governments to sometimes make mistakes – in other words, to reduce protests under the guise of community inconvenience and economic inconvenience,” he said.
He added that because of Australia’s lack of a bill of rights embodying freedom of speech, “the government is able to provide the police with fairly broad powers and may regulate protests to a greater extent than in other countries.”
For their part, activists are undeterred and say extreme measures are needed to force change in a country that has been dragging its feet on climate action for years.
“Certainly, the level of repression is horrific,” said Zelda Grimshaw, 56, a spokeswoman for Lockdown Australia. But climate activists associated with the group “are more afraid of the climate collapse we’re going through, so we’re not going to be intimidated,” she said.
Australia has always hit by extreme weather, including droughts, floods and wildfires over the past few years. “Once in 100 years” floods occur almost every year, while ravaged the country’s northeast earlier this year It was particularly severe, killing 22 people. The Black Summer wildfires of 2019 and 2020 were the worst on record in the country.
Blockade Australia campaigners also said they were being watched and intimidated by police.Authorities conducted surveillance two weeks ago before raiding a camp where activists had been living, where civil society groups condemn As “over-police intervention in pre-emptive protests”.
Attorney Mark Davis, representing several members of the group, said some of them had been stopped by police for random breath alcohol tests and their cars were searched. In addition, he said, many of those arrested had harsh bail conditions, such as being prohibited from driving or being asked to allow police to use their laptops if asked.
He said the tactics were the same police tactics used against cyclists. “Even if they can’t catch them in a criminal act, they make their lives and organisations useless,” Mr Davis said. “They can make their lives miserable by constantly stalking them, harassing them, inciting them and dragging them to court for very little things.”