Eyewitness: Police pepper-sprayed & charged peaceful Muslim protest in Sydney
An Islamophobic YouTube video called “Innocence of Muslims” has been blamed for sparking protests across the world, although the real causes are surely deeper. On September 15, a protest by Muslims in Sydney’s CBD was met with police repression. Since then, there has been widespread mainstream and social media condemnation of the protest, which has been dubbed the “Sydney Riots”.
This eyewitness account by Matt Watt, who was attending the Freedom not Fear rally in Hyde Park at the time, makes clear the police's actions in causing the violence that day.
Watt's footage of the protest can be watched here:
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During a speech about current and proposed laws for national security, several police vehicles from the Public Order and Riot Squad arrived next to us in Hyde Park, and we could hear the chanting of a protest headed our way. Within minutes of police arriving they requested everyone leave the area and told us it was for our safety as there was a large riot headed our way.
The speeches given at Freedom not Fear were very in-depth on not only proposed new legislations like the much talked about National Security Inquiry, but also existing powers and abuses. I have uploaded video of the speeches to YouTube in addition I have uploaded the transcript of my speech to my blog, which covers WikiLeaks releases that relate to Australia and how we can use WikiLeaks to “win” against these new laws, using National Defence Authorisation Act as an example.
The location of Hyde Park directly next to the fountain was a great opportunity for the rally to raise public awareness, as many people were casually strolling past or sitting nearby watching and listening. I understand the Pirate Party received many signatures on their petition regarding the national security inquiry.
I was live-streaming the speeches so after our event had been closed down by the police and our audience were either fleeing or more interested in the anti-USA protest, myself and a few others went to film closer to the protest which had stopped near our location in Hyde Park. My understanding is they had marched from Town Hall to Martin Place at the US consulate, and then continued onto Hyde Park where I started filming. I will not comment further on what I did not witness.
At the time I had reached the protest there was less than 50 police, but getting close to 300 or more protesters. They had been chanting and waving banners and flags as they approached Hyde Park, then gathered around a megaphone as a speaker calmly talked to them and made several remarks about not letting things get out of hand. The chanting started back up shortly afterwards, and the group began to march down Market St to George St.
I followed and filmed the group who were chanting in Arabic and English, one chant I recall was: “Down, Down with USA”. While there were half a dozen posters with comments like, “behead those who insult the prophet”, for the most part they were waving black and green flags, or not holding signs at all.
The police had by this stage grown in numbers and a line of 150 to 200 police officers stopped the protest from crossing George St, as traffic continued to flow behind them. Police held this line steady for about 20 minutes. The crowd of protesters grew to exceed 500 and several police vehicles and a smaller number of police were then surrounded by at least 200 bystanders.
Very aggressive police dogs dragged their handlers down the street. One dog stopped towards the centre of the crowd to the eastern side in front of 6 police officers in suits with identification badges and handy cams. The handler pushed the dog to sit within 3 metres of several mothers with their prams. The police officer began screaming in a very derogatory way for the women to get their children away from the dog.
The dogs proceeded to the front line and police were now armed with large 1 litre pepper spray bottles. I counted at least a dozen of these spray cans. After a few more minutes, there was an instant outburst, I am not sure as I did not witness with my eyes or catch on camera what happened first, but the 500 strong crowd pushed back with screams from the front.
As I moved in closer I could see people holding their eyes and washing them out with water — they had obviously been pepper-sprayed. The crowd started to retreat. However, over the megaphone came the message asking women and children to leave, while the men stay.
The police then proceed to charge. There were 200 or more police, with several on the front line constantly spraying the protesters. They would go 5 to 10 metres at a time, then yell halt and form a line again.
This continued for a few minutes, before the last dozen protesters finally turned back and headed into the maze of bystanders, cars and the Pitt St mall. They had split into multiple groups of a couple of hundred to continue marching down Pitt St mall towards King St, they turned right up King St behind the US consulate.
A small fight between police and protesters broke out on the corner of Castlereagh and King Sts, they then continued back to Hyde Park via Elizabeth St. Upon arriving at Hyde Park there were about 100 police officers, but the protesters were calling out to those arriving for quiet. They prayed in silence as the group of about 500 protestors regrouped.
Within 10 minutes of regrouping, about 300 police had surrounded the group shoulder-to-shoulder in a half-circle. I’m not sure if the police were waiting for them to stop praying, or they stopped because they were approached, but a line of police officers with batons, more police dogs and pepper spray was formed inside the half-circle. They continued to advance on the protesters. I was to the side, filming many people being pepper sprayed and hit. At this stage bottles were being thrown from the protesters at the police who were clearly attacking them.
I heard a discussion between a mainstream cameraman and a police officer, who asked the police officer if he could get in and film the protestors being pepper sprayed. The police officer let him and asked other police to let him in.
Scuffles continued and the group at the centre of the police’s attention fell to about 100 people. However, the other protesters had just started to form behind the police line, so the police regrouped around them. I understand there were several more clashes but I went back to my car to finish packing up from Freedom not Fear.