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Charges Faced by Climate Protester in Danish Jail Dismissed as Absurd

by Amy Corderoy

AN AUSTRALIAN remains in a Danish prison three weeks after being arrested for organising a protest against the Copenhagen climate-change conference.

Natasha Verco ... arrested and charged on December 13. Danish authorities have released other demonstrators, including foreign nationals who were arrested and charged with similar offences before the summit, but Natasha Verco remains in Copenhagen's Vestre Faengsel jail, unable to contact her Australian family or friends.

A statement co-signed by Mrs Verco, and obtained by the Herald, said the charges against her were ''absurd accusations about either violence that actually did not take place, or conspiracies''.

The climate activist Holly Creenaune said Mrs Verco was arrested on December 13 and charged with "incitement".

While Ms Creenaune has been unable to establish any official reason for the continued detention of Mrs Verco, she speculated that Danish authorities might be worried that Mrs Verco might return to Australia if released. Mrs Verco is a well-known Sydney activist who founded Rural Australians for Refugees and co-founded Friends of the Earth Sydney.

The Greens senator Scott Ludlam said Mrs Verco's arrest and long detention was unprecedented. "It is absolutely outrageous that she has been in prison all this time," he said.

"It would be very unusual for that to occur in Australia."

Mrs Verco left Australia in June 2007 and recently married a Danish citizen. A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said: "We are aware of the case and are providing consular assistance to the woman.''

But Senator Ludlam says the Federal Government should demand Mrs Verco's immediate release.

"I think, at the very least, [the Government] should contact the Danish consul-general and ask why this woman has been detained for such a long time," he said. Senator Ludlam has written to the Danish consul-general requesting the her immediate release.

James Goodman, who taught Mrs Verco when she studied at the University of Technology, Sydney, said she organised non-violent ''direct action'' and civil disobedience protests.

Professor Goodman said: "It is my understanding there are now only half a dozen or so people who are still being detained [from more than 1800 arrests in Copenhagen]. This appears to be a case of the law being used politically in order to prevent political expression". He said if the prosecution proceeded, Mrs Verco would be protected by European Union laws covering the right to advocate civil disobedience. It is expected that Mrs Verco will have her case heard today.

Ms Creenaune said Friends of the Earth Sydney planned to deliver a letter to the Danish consul-general in Sydney, Michael Hansen, asking him to intervene.

The Danish consulate was closed over the holidays and did not respond to inquiries.

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