A Western Australian journalist who was taking photos of the removal of ancient rock art from a fertilizer plant site says she was repeatedly stopped by police and the images were eventually seized during a raid.
The police action comes amid a crackdown on environmental activists in the state.
Ngaarda Media reporter Eliza Kloser captured the removal of the art from Murujuga on the Burrup Peninsula in the Pilbara on Friday morning.
She said she was stopped twice by two different police patrols within minutes, once while taking pictures from public land and secondly as she was leaving the area on a public road.
Kloser had snapped photos to accompany a story about the removal of three pieces of rock art to make way for a $6 billion urea plant built by Perdaman.
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“I just thought it was ridiculous, it just shocked me a little how guarded it was, the area, and the fact that I was stopped so much just for taking pictures. I was within my legal rights, like what’s the matter? Kloser said.
“I’m a journalist, I’m doing a duty. I have a very interested audience for this.
Later that afternoon, Kloser was at his home in Karratha when police knocked on the door and said they were executing a warrant.
Earlier that day, Kloser’s roommate Gerard Mazza had been arrested in connection with an alleged planned disruption to the Woodside annual general meeting. Mazza was reported for “aggravated theft with intent in a place”.
Kloser said he had no knowledge of Mazza’s alleged planned hiatus and had never had any involvement in the activism.
Kloser told police she was a journalist, and had already been stopped twice that day by police in Murujuga, where she was taking pictures.
But officers spent a significant amount of time sifting through photos on a camera he mostly uses for work, he said, before saying they would seize his memory card. Kloser had already downloaded a copy of the photos.
WA Police contacted Kloser and returned the memory card to her on Tuesday afternoon, two hours after questions regarding the raid were sent by the Guardian.
Kloser was also driving Mazza’s car when it was stopped in Murujuga, but he says police did not say this was why it was intercepted.
She asked police on Tuesday for a copy of the warrant but they said it could not be provided because the house had been searched under a WA law which allows such a search when a person has been arrested in connection with a serious crime.
The law also states that “a thing relevant to a crime” can be seized by this search, even if it is not the crime that prompted the search.
Kloser was not told why police suspected the memory card could be relevant to any crime.
His experience is the latest in a string of interactions involving police in the state that have unsettled protesters and environmental activists.
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Zarah Burgess, a lawyer representing several people accused of crimes related to their activism, said WA police had adopted an increasingly coordinated, targeted and sophisticated response to protesters, particularly those opposed to the Burrup redevelopment.
He said that while the state had not passed laws banning protests, as had happened in other states such as Victoria and New South Wales, the police’s current approach was having a similar impact.
“What it shows is just a reflection of what is a global trend right now in terms of criminalizing peaceful protests,” he said.
“It’s designed to cut them in the knees, designed to intimidate them and send a message to environmental activists to essentially scare them into submission.”
Longtime activist and journalist Jesse Noakes also received police attention.
He pitched a story for the Saturday Paper about the WA police approach to protesters on Thursday night.
He said he was near the site of the Woodside AGM Friday morning when two officers from the state security investigative team, whose duties typically include counterterrorism, arrested him on charges related to the allegedly planned disruption of the AGM extension.
He says he was held for eight hours and then released without charge, but police still have his phone and laptop and are looking for his passwords to access them.
“I work with vulnerable communities on sensitive stories about climate, housing, cultural heritage, youth justice, deaths in custody, health and homelessness, among others.
“My priority is to protect my sources, so I am absolutely unable to allow WA police access to my contacts and confidential material.”
A WA Police spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases: “The WA Police Force recognizes the right of people to protest and will even help facilitate safe, peaceful and lawful protests, as we have done in the past.”