Prominent Perth activist Kamala Emanuel faces court on November 28 in an important case dealing with the right to protest. She is charged with “failure to obey [an] order given by an officer”.
The charges relate to an April protest rally against coal seam gas "fracking" that was attacked by Perth City Council rangers. Rangers tried to close down the rally, claiming that it was in violation of council by-laws, including one by-law that prohibits a person from carrying a sign without authorisation.
Police and rangers seized banners, signs and stall materials but were unsuccessful in their attempts to shut down the rally.
Emanuel was trying to protect a banner when police gave her a move-on notice. They falsely claim that she was disorderly and allege that "the accused immediately refused to abide by the order and proceeded to rejoin the rally, making absolutely no attempt to move away from the area".
Move on notices enable police in WA to direct people to leave an area for a time period up to 24 hours. They are controversial because police often use them in an arbitrary way. Homeless people, Aboriginal people and young people are frequent victims of their use.
The penalties for violating a move on order — $12,000 or 12 months in prison — are frequently worse than the penalties for any actions that were used to justify the original move on notice. The Aboriginal Legal Services believes that move on notices should be done away with.
Move on notices are also used in some protest situations, which was the case for Emanuel. In parliament before the inclusion of move on notices in law, it was claimed that they would not be used in protest situations. Emanuel's case demonstrates that this promise has been violated.
Activists are calling for the charge against Emanuel to be dropped.
The attempted repression of the April anti-fracking rally by rangers sparked a free speech campaign in Perth that was largely successful. The by-laws were not repealed, but repeated protest actions took place in front of council rangers without any harassment.
More than a dozen organisations and hundreds of individuals signed a "free speech pledge" promising to exercise their free speech rights and to defend anyone whose free speech rights were violated.
Activists believe a similar victory can be won in this case.