Activists defy intimidation

June 30, 2007

Jasmine Ali was found not guilty on June 26 on charges relating to her involvement in a February 22 protest against US Vice-President Dick Cheney. The same day that she appeared before the court, the NSW government's APEC Meeting (Policing Powers) Bill passed unamended through the NSW upper house. Ali was the second of two Cheney protesters to win court cases. There are six more trials to take place.

The victories are significant because the police treated the protests against Cheney as a practice run for the September Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. Police attempted to prevent an anti-war march by more than 500 activists on February 22 and then charged violently into a peaceful protest on February 23 to arrest two "tranny cops" (street theatre performers dressed in mock police uniforms).

Each court victory by the Cheney protesters helps to defend the right to protest against Prime Minister John Howard and US President George Bush at APEC. The state Labor government is currently trying to undermine this right.

The main vehicle for this intimidation is the APEC police powers bill. Announcements about the specific provisions in this bill have been gradually leaked or announced since late May, however the actual passage of the bill through parliament on June 26 rated barely a whisper in the corporate media.

The few reports that did appear, such as a June 27 Melbourne Herald Sun article, reported on the APEC public holiday and on the government's power to close down "shopping strips" during the summit. The Herald Sun was silent about the unprecedented attack on democratic rights that the bill represents.

The Greens were the only parliamentarians to vote against the bill. Greens MLC Sylvia Hale joined a protest stunt organised by the Stop Bush Coalition outside parliament on June 26. Activists held an exhibition of "prohibited objects, prohibited people and prohibited protests".

The exhibition included photos of political gatherings (such as the May 2000 reconciliation "bridge walk" and the November 30, 2006, Your Rights at Work rally) that marched through the "declared area" in central Sydney that will be out of bounds for protesters during two weeks around the APEC summit. The question was posed: why would these protests be banned if they took place during APEC?

Another aspect of the intimidation is the targeting of student activists. Representatives of the National Union of Students and Sydney University student representative council say they have been approached by police or security agencies and told to stay away from APEC protests. Sydney University education officer Dan Jones was asked by police to become an informant in return for "help" with charges related to protests at the November G20 meeting in Melbourne.

The Stop Bush Coalition has also been made aware of a fleet of converted State Transit buses that will be mobile police holding cells — indicating that the police are preparing for mass arrests at APEC.

Intimidation can backfire — just as it did during the February 22 protest against Cheney. The best way to neutralise intimidation is to stand up to it. We can take inspiration from the attitude of the Cheney arrestees who, undeterred, are pledging to participate in the protest activities during APEC. The Stop Bush Coalition is organising a public forum about defending the right to protest on July 16 as part of the campaign against the state government's efforts to intimidate activists.

[Alex Bainbridge is an activist in the Stop Bush Coalition, which is organising a major protest march at the APEC summit beginning at 10am on Saturday, September 8 at Sydney Town Hall. Visit http://www.stopbush2007.org for more details.]

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