The right to protest in Melbourne on trial this Tuesday

Some might remember that on July 1 last year, nineteen activists, including myself were arrested outside the Max Brenner chocolate shop at QV in Melbourne as part of the BDS campaign against Israel. I blogged about it for Overland, highlighting the civil liberties issues that were at stake for not just pro-Palestinian activists but protests more generally.

The police, in overalls and leather gloves, sent squads into the crowd and arrested protesters. They mostly targeted those holding megaphones or those seen to be leading the demonstration. Charges range from trespass and besetting, to ‘behaving in a riotous manner’ – despite the fact that it was the police that were ‘besetting’ the store, blocking all entrances with more officers than protesters, whilst we linked arms in a completely non-violent protest. The violence came from the police who grabbed protesters in headlocks, with one arrestee losing consciousness for a time.

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The court case for the majority of the nineteen begins this Tuesday and is going for two or three weeks, which is insane given that they are being tried for trespass and besetting, fairly minor charges in the scheme of things. But the Victorian police want to make a big deal about this and it has pretty serious ramifications.

If the Victorian Police get away with attacking pro-Palestinian activism in Melbourne, it sets a precedent that the police can basically do the same to any other protest. If they don’t like what you’re protesting about (and police aren’t really known for being fans of political protests), they can declare any public place a designated area and if you remain in that area, you get arrested for trespass in a public place. Yes, Bailleau actually introduced a law where you could trespass in public.

It’s pretty crucial that we mobilise as much support for those being tried as possible to defend the right to protest in Victoria. There will be a protest outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court from 9am on Tuesday morning. There will also be a forum on Friday night at Trades Hall with arrestee Vashti Kenway, Overland editor Jeff Sparrow, MUA secretary Kevin Bracken and Israeli anti-Zionist activist Inbal Sinai.

This is also a bit of a call out to bloggers and tweeters that want to defend civil liberties in Victoria. This crucial court case has been forgotten a bit and it would be really useful if bloggers blogged about it and tweeters started tweeting (using the hashtag #MaxBrenner19), discussing it and promoting the protest and the forum.

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