Anti-coal seam gas protestors in north-west New South Wales are alleging police used excessive force on a 47-year-old woman yesterday, ripping off her sunglasses, yanking her head back by her hair, and pepper-spraying her in the eyes at close range while her arm was restrained in a metal ‘lock-on’ device.
“I was in a vulnerable position with only one arm free and without the freedom to move around,” South Australian protestor Kerri Tonkin said in a media statement.
The statement was circulated by the ‘Pilliga Action Camp’, which has been waging a campaign of civil disobedience to protest a massive coal seam gas field proposed by energy giant Santos.
It further alleges that “whilst Kerri was shocked, blinded and in extreme pain, two officers lifted her up and threw her over the arm of the excavator [which she had attached herself to]whilst her arm was still in the metal pipe”.
“The actions of the police officers were excessive and dangerous. I’m surprised I didn’t leave with a dislocated shoulder or a broken arm,” Tonkin said.
In a statement to New Matilda, NSW Police confirmed officers from Barwon Local Area Command were called to the scene around 9am, where they “arrived to find a small group of protesters had allegedly gained access to the secure site”.
A number of protestors supporting Tonkin agreed to be escorted from the Santos facility, after being spoken to by police. Tonkin, and fellow protestor Cyd Fenwick – a 46-year-old woman, who was connected to Tonkin by the metal piping – remained locked to Santos machinery.
“Officers subsequently arrested the pair, during which OC spray was used,” Police confirmed.
“Both women were taken to Narrabri Police Station, where a NSW Ambulance conducted a medical assessment.
“They were later issued Field Court Attendance Notices for enter in-closed land without lawful excuse.
“[Tonkin] was also charged with resist police.
“The women were issued conditional bail to appear before Narrabri Local Court on Tuesday 23 February 2016.”
Kerri Tonkin, pictured after police pepper sprayed her while she was locked onto equipment in protest at coal seam gas mining in the Pilliga.
In the statement circulated to media, Fenwick alleges “the escalation of the situation by police was sudden and excessive”.
“Police had only just asked us to move before they used this force,” she said. “There was absolutely no provocation from either of us to result in this heavy response.”
A spokesperson for the blockade camp established to protest Santos’ proposed 850-gas well in the Pilliga forest, Wilderness Society Newcastle campaigner Naomi Hodgson said a complaint will be filed.
“This action by the police is unacceptable: we simply cannot have a situation where Police officers believe they are empowered to physically assault members of the community that pose them no harm – no matter what the circumstances,” Hodgson said.
Environmental Defenders Office NSW lawyer Kira Levin will defend the two women against the charges of resisting arrest and entering enclosed land. She said the alleged use of force by police “would appear to be excessive”.
“There is a long history in Australia of police response to environmental protest, and pepper spray has not been a part of it,” Levin said.
The Santos-owned site where the incident took place is the subject of legal action over its environmental approval, and protestors have re-iterated calls for construction work to be halted until the case is heard.
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