A Western Australian journalist who was taking photos of the removal of ancient rock art from the site of a fertiliser plant says she was repeatedly stopped by police and eventually had the images seized during a raid.
The police action comes amid a crackdown on environmental activists in the state.
Eliza Kloser, a journalist with Ngaarda Media, 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, the first while taking photos from public land, and the second while she was leaving the area on a public road.
Kloser had been taking photos to accompany a story on the removal of three pieces of rock art to make way for a $6bn urea plant being constructed by Perdaman.
“I just thought it was ridiculous, it just shocked me a bit how policed it was, the area, and that I was stopped so much just for taking photos. I was within my legal rights, like what’s the problem?” Kloser said.
“I’m a journalist, I’m doing a duty. I’ve got an audience that’s very interested in this.”
Later that afternoon, Kloser was at her home in Karratha when police knocked on the door and said they were executing a warrant.
Earlier that day, Kloser’s housemate, Gerard Mazza, had been arrested in relation to an alleged planned disruption at the Woodside annual general meeting. Mazza has been charged with “aggravated burglary with intent on a place”.
Kloser said she had no prior knowledge of Mazza’s alleged planned disruption and has never had any involvement in activism.
Kloser told police she was a journalist, and had already been stopped twice earlier that day by police at Murujuga, where she had been taking photos.
But officers spent a significant period of time searching through the photos on a camera she predominantly uses for work, she said, before declaring they would be seizing its memory card. Kloser had already downloaded a copy of the photos.
WA police contacted Kloser and returned her memory card on Tuesday afternoon, two hours after questions regarding the raid had been sent by the Guardian.
Kloser had also been driving Mazza’s car at the time she was stopped at Murujuga, but says police did not mention this was the reason she 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 permits such a search when a person has been arrested in relation to a serious offence.
The law also states that “a thing relevant to an offence” can be seized under this search, even if it is not the offence that prompted the search.
Kloser was not told why police suspected the memory card could be relevant to any offence.
Her experience is the latest in a series of interactions involving police in the state that have troubled environmental protesters and activists.
Zarah Burgess, a lawyer who is representing several people charged with offences relating to their activism, said WA police had increasingly taken a coordinated, targeted and sophisticated response towards protesters, particularly those opposed to redevelopment on the Burrup.
She said while the state had not passed laws which banned protesting, as had occurred in other states such as Victoria and New South Wales, the current police approach was having a similar impact.
“What it shows is just a reflection of what is a global trend at the moment in terms of criminalising peaceful protests,” she said.
“It’s designed to cut them off at the knees, designed to bully them, and send a message to environmental activists to essentially scare them into submission.”
Jesse Noakes, a long-time campaigner and journalist, has also received police attention.
He filed 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 on Friday morning when two officers from the state security investigation group, whose duties typically include counter-terrorism, arrested him on suspicion of offences related to the alleged planned disruption of the AGM.
He says he was held for eight hours and then released without charge, but police still have his phone and laptop and are seeking his passwords to access them.
“I work with vulnerable communities on sensitive stories about climate, housing, cultural heritage, youth justice, deaths in custody and health and homelessness among others.
“My priority is to protect my sources so I am totally unable to give WA police access to my contacts and confidential material.”
A WA police spokesperson said they could not comment on individual cases: “The WA police force recognises the rights of people to protest and will even assist to facilitate safe, peaceful and lawful protests, as we have in the past.”