Statement in Solidarity with Kill the Bill protests
The Committee to Defend Julian Assange sends solidarity and support to those who have been protesting against the new ‘Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’, particularly those who have been arrested or injured by the vicious police assaults on the protesters. That so many people – particularly young people – have taken up the call to Kill the Bill and the struggle for democratic rights is a cause for hope and optimism. It is the young who are going to have to live under the tyranny of rulers bent on war and environmental ruin. Those rulers are determined to erode and destroy democratic and human rights and meet protest with repression and violence.
We have seen the police in riot gear using baton and riot shield strikes to hit and injure protesters, violent shoves, pepper spray, police horses charging crowds, the release of attack dogs and repeated assaults on peaceful protestors already injured. Indeed, the worst of the police violence seemed to occur when protesters were sitting down chanting ‘Peaceful protest’ and ‘We are peaceful – How About You?’ Ben Smoke, a journalist from Huck Magazine who was at the Friday protest described ‘horrendous injuries’ arising from the police attacks: ‘It was just violence, pure brutal carnage … There was blood and screaming and people were panicking and petrified. The police just didn’t stop, they just kept coming and coming’. (There is a large amount of film showing this – see references at the end.)
Journalists including from the Bristol Cable as well as the Daily Mirror were also attacked. Matthew Dresch from the Daily Mirror tweeted:
‘Police assaulted me at the Bristol protest even though I told them I was from the press. I was respectfully observing what was happening and posed no threat to any of the officers’.
The police in Bristol also trampled down the memorial to Sarah Everard erected on College Green echoing the response of the Met police when they attacked the vigil for Sarah Everard on Clapham Common. This despite the fact that one of their own serving police officers has been charged with her murder. There are shocking photographs of a young woman being arrested and carried away stripped to her underwear in the street at the Manchester Kill the Bill protest.
The Committee to defend Julian Assange is appalled but not surprised to see the actions of the British government and its police apparatus. Julian Assange is currently approaching the second anniversary of his imprisonment in Belmarsh Maximum Security gaol, most of it in solitary confinement. A journalist and publisher, he has been persecuted, hounded, dragged from asylum and imprisoned awaiting extradition to the US solely because he and Wikileaks revealed the war crimes – including death squads, torture and murder of civilians – of the US, UK and other NATO governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For this he has been subjected to what the UN has ruled as 10 years of ‘arbitrary detention’. The UN’s Rapporteur on torture has found that he has suffered ‘psychological torture’. The British and US governments have closely collaborated in their effort to get him to the USA where he faces a 175-year sentence for revealing their dirty secrets. Although extradition has been refused by a lower UK court that ruling is being appealed by the US and yet still they keep him in Belmarsh. The corporate media have played a key role in the public mobbing, slander, persecution and sustained lies about the Julian Assange case. Their mission was to turn the public against him. Only years of dedicated campaigning have won back public support.
In much the same way, the media portrayed the Bristol protests as violent mobs which the police had to battle to control. They thus reversed the sequence of events obscuring the fact that it was the police who first attacked peaceful protesters. This allowed the media to minimise the police violence that caused severe injuries to protesters. The police falsely fed the ever-willing media the story that police officers had suffered broken bones and punctured lungs which was later retracted but had already appeared on the front pages of many newspapers and TV stories.
This was designed to turn sections of the population against the protests. It also enabled politicians -Tory and Labour – to condemn the protesters and to attack them not only for violence but – in some Labour politicians’ cases -for using ‘counter-productive’ tactics which would harm the fight against the Police Bill. Given that the Tories have concocted the Bill in collaboration with the police and that Labour planned to abstain on it prior to the Clapham events – we would ask parliamentarians what fight they refer to. It is the protesters who showed the way when they chanted ‘Whose Streets – Our Streets’. It is they who have brought attention to the new Bill and the dangers it poses to democratic forces in Britain. The proliferation of mobile phones with cameras gave the protestors the means to record primary source material and disseminate the truth about the events unfiltered, like WikiLeaks does with their primary source material. Their publisher Julian Assange has been treated as a rioter gagged and imprisoned, his life and liberty is at stake for revealing the truth.
The police have a long history of brutality against progressive social movements and oppressed communities. During the 1984 miners’ strike, for example, the government used the police as a political force to try to beat the miners into submission. Those picketing at Orgreave recall:
‘Dozens of mounted officers, armed with long truncheons, charged up the field, followed by snatch squad officers in riot gear, with short shields and truncheons. The miners fled up the hill towards the embankment and the railway bridge. Many of those who couldn’t or wouldn’t run were assaulted with batons, causing several serious injuries, and dragged back through the police lines to the temporary detention centre opposite the plant.’ 55 miners were arrested and charged with “riot”, an offence which at that time carried a potential life sentence. A further 40 men were charged with “unlawful assembly”. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign is still fighting for justice. In a further parallel with protests now, they write: ‘After Orgreave, encouraged by the police, the media unfairly vilified the miners for provoking the violence when in fact it was the police who instigated it.’
There is no easy path in any struggle for justice and democratic rights. It requires that we stand in solidarity with each other. That we keep the faith and organise to keep the struggle growing.
Those injured and arrested on the protests in Bristol are being helped by Bristol Defendant Solidarity @BristolDefenda1
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More information: Long thread by journalist Ben Smoke with several films: @HUCKmagazine 26 March