Australian environmental activist jailed

Friday 21 Jul 2023

An environmental activist has been sent to jail in Tasmania for the first time in more than a decade after protesting at logging and mining sites.

Colette Joan Harmsen, a 47-year-old veterinarian and seasoned “peaceful forest protester” with the Bob Brown Foundation, was sentenced to three months in prison for breaching a suspended sentence for protesting against a mine on the west coast of Tasmania.

Harmsen appeared in Hobart magistrates court on Friday after pleading guilty to four counts of trespassing, as well as other related offences. It comes just a year after the Tasmanian government passed anti-protest legislation that was aimed at the Bob Brown Foundation and its blockades. Under the laws protesters can be fined up to AU$12,975 or jailed for 18 months for a first offence. Organisations can be fined up to AU$103,800 if they are judged to have obstructed workers or caused “a serious risk”.

The Bob Brown Foundation campaign manager, Jenny Weber, said police prosecutors had attempted to prosecute Harmsen under the anti-protest laws. Weber said it was the first time a woman in Tasmania had been sentenced to prison for environmental protesting. In 2011, the protester Ali Alishah served five months in a Tasmanian prison after he breached a suspended sentence by continuing to protest against logging.

Harmsen’s charges relate to her involvement in a protest in 2021 where she locked herself on to an excavator at MMG’s mine on the state’s west coast and refused to leave when asked by police. She was also charged with trespassing during a protest at a forestry site and Venture Minerals’ mine in the north-west, on three separate occasions from 2021 to 23.

In his sentencing remarks, Magistrate Chris Webster noted Harmsen had a long history of trespassing, dating back to 2010. “The original penalty was to encourage [her] to stop her illegal protest activities,” he said. “No doubt she will learn a lesson from her imprisonment.”

Source: The Guardian

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