Grandmother Climate Activist Secures Electronically Monitored Bail After Audacious Protest

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Rosemary Penwarden, a 64-year-old grandmother and retired medical scientist from Dunedin, gripped headlines when she concreted her own hand to a bustling Wellington road. This unconventional act of defiance was a part of climate change protests conducted by the activist group, Restore Passenger Rail. Recently relieved from her custody, Penwarden triumphed her battle in securing electronically-monitored bail at the High Court of Wellington.

No stranger to civil disobedience, Penwarden has made a name for herself in the climate activism circles, participating in numerous protests intended to express pressing concerns related to global climate change and promoting the necessity of increased public transport investment.

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The audacious protest, staged the 29th of August, resulted in her charge of endangering transport when she managed to adhere her hand to State Highway 1 near Kilbirnie. Appearing in court via a video from Wellington Hospital, she cradled her hand protectively in a bucket while charges were read. Subsequently, her appeal for bail was denied by Wellington District Court judge Peter Hobbs, leaving Penwarden in custody at Arohata Prison.

Besieged by an existing set of charges and already on bail, previous conditions mandated that Penwarden refrain from engaging in illegal protest activities. Now, she holds the distinctive title of being the first climate protester ever apprehended and placed in custodial remand in New Zealand, a claim asserted by her protest group.

Following the bail hearing, Penwarden’s legal team initiated a High Court appeal against the remand decision. Taking into consideration that public interest supersedes publication restrictions under the Bail Act, the counsel engaged in a heated debate about Penwarden’s actions and the prosecutorial grounds.

Penwarden’s lawyer, Christopher Stevenson, fervently addressed the global and local concerns of climate change, articulating that Penwarden’s protest were driven by an overriding concern for humanity. He referenced New Zealand’s historical precedence of initiating positive societal changes through protest. Citing a similar case of John Tovey, another member of Restore Passenger Rail, he emphasized the necessity of minimal restrictions, arguing for electronically monitored bail as the drawn-out remand in custody until 2024 could be excessive and unlawful.

Prosecutor Megan Paish contested the appeal, backing Judge Hobbs’ initial decision. Despite Penwarden’s absence at the hearing, an application for electronically monitored bail was proposed, upon Justice Grice’s request, and later reviewed by her.

While the High Court appeal outcome is yet to be disclosed, Justice Grice approved the electronically monitored bail application in the interim. The conditions tied to the bail divulge a few mandates; remain outside Wellington, respect a designated curfew during rush-hour traffic and avoid engaging in further illegal protest activities.

Although the decision to grant the substantive appeal remains undisclosed, more comprehensive interpretations will be furnished in the forthcoming days. Revealing the high stakes encounter of climate activism, Penwarden’s tale continues to evolve.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.