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Excessive Police Response Seeks to Criminalise Peaceful Protest

Lock The Gate Alliance has this morning criticised the NSW Government for its excessive and heavy-handed response to peaceful protest against coal mining expansion in the Gunnedah Basin earlier this week.

Three peaceful protestors arrested this week at the Boggabri Coal Mine have been charged with an offence under s201 of the Crimes Act – hinder working of mining equipment – which carries a maximum gaol term of seven years.

“The excessive charges laid against peaceful protesters this week are clearly an attempt to intimidate rural communities who are concerned about the reckless expansion of mining in NSW,” said Carmel Flint, a regional co-ordinator with Lock the Gate Alliance.

“Yesterday, a gentle elderly birdwatcher, 84-year old Russ Watts AM, was charged with hindering mining activities and he now faces a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for sitting quietly on a chair for a couple of hours.

“Mr Watts was voluntarily leaving the site after a warning from the NSW Police but was arrested anyway.

“This was his first protest and he has an exemplary record, but he was given onerous bail conditions which prevent him from visiting the town of Boggabri or entering the land of any mining company.

“It would seem that violent criminals have less to fear in NSW then peaceful protesters who dare to challenge mining companies.

“It is extraordinary that a foreign company, like Idemitsu which owns the Boggabri mine, can gain free access to our public lands for open-cut coal and then throw its weight around against peaceful citizens who express dissent at the outcome.

“The NSW Government has clearly made a decision to protect mining companies at the expense of human health, water and the environment and the NSW Police have become a pawn in the game of big coal companies.

“We are calling on the NSW Police Minister and the Commissioner to reassert the independence of the NSW Police Force and to respect the rights of Australian citizens to peaceful protest,” she said.

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