Eyewitness account of police riot against peaceful Muslim protest in Australia

Several protesters were injured. Photo by Josh Lee/Socialist Alternative (reproduced with permission).

I was attending a small but engaging rally against internet spying on September 15, organised by the Pirate Party and others at Hyde Park North, when seven police cars and four-wheel-drives drove into the park and about 20 police officers got out.

Protesting members of the Muslim community shouting “Allahu Akbar!”, marched into the park and police told us to hurry and pack up. More police ran, in phalanx formation towards the Muslim rally.

This rally of 300-400 people included women and children, older men and young Muslims, were protesting against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, produced in California, which one woman at the rally described as “disgusting”.

I spoke to three young women who were sitting calmly on the ground about why they protested.

“We had to protest this horrible film. If Jesus had been called horrible things in a film, Christians would have protested,” one of the women said.

“The police are being too heavy,” added another woman.

The police lined up, truncheons extended, behind and in front of the Muslim protesters. One police line then advanced on the protesters, yelling. The young men in the protest moved back. A woman with a pram hurried out past the cops.

“Let's get out of here,” said one of the young women I had been speaking to and they left to get out of the police cordon.

Police cars blocked off Macquarie Street, near the NSW Parliament, and parts of College Street. It was a huge, over the top, show of force by the police. I saw three large police dogs.

The police kept goading the protesters by shoving them back in coordinated waves of advance. The protesters were chanting through megaphones.

Then a bottle was thrown by a young man in the protest and the cops started firing pepper spray into the front row of the protest. They also sprayed it up into the crowd. There were cries of anger and “Down, down USA!” chants.

Some young protesters surged forward and the police used more pepper spray. One man was dragged off after he had an allergic reaction to the spray, according to one of the protesters. Two protesters were injured and taken to hospital, said a young woman.

A group of male protesters then formed into a circle, chanting through the megaphone.

They started praying, angry, but determined. The police stayed back as a police helicopter hummed overhead.

Onlookers came to watch the chanting, also watching the police. Young men washed their faces in the Hyde Park fountain, and came back to chant. I saw a young Muslim woman of high school age crying. The media focused on the most provocative fundamentalist placard, but I saw an older woman giving out a leaflet which said: “Islam = peace” and “Mohammed = humble”.

I met an Iraq war veteran at the rally who said he had left the army because of the crimes the occupation troops committed against the Iraqi people. He said that the community had the right to protest without police violence.

Participants in the anti-spying action filmed the police pepper spraying the protesters and the huge line of police.

One person who had marched with the rally since it started at Town Hall and said: “The police didn't let us march where we wanted to go.”

I think that if the police had left the protesters alone they would have marched, chanted and prayed in peace. Instead, the police goaded the protesters, in particular the youth, and so the police are responsible for the clashes that took place.

Their use of pepper spray and truncheons was extremely aggressive and unprovoked. There was no need to surround the rally and charge the protesters and there was no need for the police to come out in such massive force.

The police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people. But Muslim protesters get different treatment.

Muslims have been scapegoated and criminalised by state and federal governments and the mainstream media. Muslim communities are the target of intense racism and have been made fair game in this country.

Now the protesters, not the police, are being blamed by politicians and the media of the 1% and even more fear and hate is being whipped up against the Muslim population.

We should condemn the police who brutally provoked these protesters and squandered thousands of dollars in a massive show of police repression in the heart of Sydney.

SBS reporter says: "The protests attempted to leave the park peacefully, when the police literally set upon them..."

POSTSCRIPT

This eyewitness account, written rapidly after the events on September 15 and based on what the author saw with her own eyes, has generated a large amount of comments, many questioning the account. Below is a comment from Rachel Evans responding to comments.

* * *

To anonymous Sun 16/09/12

Firstly if communities and groups want to protest with a day or two notice, they should be able to. NSW is the only state I know where protest groups need to put in a form into the police 7 days before the protest takes place, and get 'permission.'

It's designed to put groups off protesting. It's anti-democratic.

Not everyone knows how to go about getting such a form, or where to send it. A number of migrant groups I have come in contact with had no idea how to go about putting in such forms.

Such petty paperwork is designed to deter groups, and those using the argument 'they didn't put in the right paperwork' are missing the point. Muslims, Christians, eco-warriors, unionists, any group should have the right to protest without being set upon by police and their dogs.

I didn't agree with all of the placards at the rally. But French philosopher Voltaire was on the mark when he said 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.'

In an article ''Sydney riots' less about religion more about democracy' Green Left Weekly author Tim Dobson noted ' Democratic rights are just that. They aren't a tap to be turned on and off... What you think of the rally should be irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether it is repressed or not. Those who celebrate the crackdown are willing to put faith in the police and the state in general to determine what is a legitimate protest or not. That is a very worrying precedent.'

Read the full article here
http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52260

Finally, police were injured because they escalated a tense situation. A repugnant, Islamophobic 'Innocence of Muslims' video is released within the US which sparkes protests across the Middle East. Cops in Sydney come across a rally with impassioned young Muslim people who are then corraled and cornered, and whose children are set upon by police dogs.

Instead, if police had allowed the march to take place, without intimidation and harassment, and been calm and reasonable the situation would have been diffused.

But that would not have helped justify the war-drive and occupation the US and West have over the Middle East now, would it?

More on why US war crimes are behind Muslim, and Middle East anger here.
http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52268

Rachel Evans

Comments

This article gives an eyewitness account of the rally that says police attacked what had been until then a peaceful protest. I may not agree at all with the ideas expressed or some of the placards present at the rally, but I support their right to protest without being pepper-sprayed and attacked by the police. If you are so "proud" of the cops for assaulting the protest so be it, but don't confuse your position with Marxism or secularism. It's appalling prejudice, pure and simple.
You gotta love a "proud leftist" who accuses GLW of being "gutless" but doesn't have the guts to put his/her name to their comments. Yeah, it's really brave to slag off others under the safety of anonymity. You may have been around the DSP for a while but you obviously didn't learn much from the experience. Even if people are expressing views you find repugnant, you don't support the State repressing them. It's Solidarity 101. Bronwen Beechey
The only place in the country this sort of abuse happens is in Sydney, the bigots need to think about that.
Browbeating others doesn't really work when you clearly don't know what you're talking about. Below is an article by Jeff Sparrow which mentions what Marx thought of an event with similar characteristics in his time - the Indian rebellion of 1857. http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52294
I fully support Green Left Weekly articles on this subject. I am bemused by all those calling the end of the progressive left. Perhaps they haven't been to any protests lately. Those of us who have clearly recognize the tactics of the right and the main stream media to put the onus for any violence back onto the protestors. We don't have to go back too far for recognition of this. The peaceful Occupy Melbourne protest violently disturbed be police thugs. The Invasion Day and 40th Tent Embassy protests exaggerated out of all proportion when any violence clearly emenated from the security staff and Federal police...No arrests. The protest in the desert called the Lizards Revenge against Uraninium mining. Corporate backed Police and Media units peddaled disinformation about people throwing things and Horses being deliberately hurt to justify the police intimidation and violence. ...I have video evidence of this which will show the lies. The Max Brenner QV square protest...later the protestors were fully vindicated in the courts. The Occupy Tent Dress stripped violently from the lovely lady wearing it. Whilst I have some issues surrounding the Left's overall response to the Muslim "Riots" in the method initially chosen to communicate solidarity there is little doubt in my mind that Marx would have approved. Long live community media we would be lost in right wing hysteria driven propaganda without it. Colin Mallett.
I wasnt at the rally (even using the word *riot* loads public perceptiins, there was nothing remotely riotlike until AFTER police started to push back protesters). I know this because I watched a 2 hour long video made by an independant bystander, who happened to b filming in Hyde Park, its available on Youtube. As I understand it, a permit had been applied for & given for Sunday, but organisers realised it wld clash with funrun,& applied to change date, not exactly the actions of a violent mob? Police refused date change, cos they werent able to mobilise their massive number of heavy duty response force in time, they EXPECTED confrontation. The Video clearly shows how peaceful protest was, hilariously they werent even able to maintain consistent chanting like all of us lefties :-) Video also clearly shows shoppers on footpath including young kids recording on their mobiles , clearly unafraid. It was only AFTER the police blocked the progress of the marcb & started fullon pushback, riot squad storm trooper style, that things got ugly, THEN organisers tell women & children to go home,& still they just try to keep MARCHING, back to Hyde Park. I'm not denying a HANDFUL of young men behave aggressively IN RESPONSE. But if u have ever been ursele to an almist universally peaceful rally, & then watch the TV footage, u will never again trust MSM coverage, they always hunt for the worst moments & they are showing the same few SECONDS of footage over & over as always. What I also saw in video thats NEVER shown o TV was the aggressive behaviour of some police , who were restrained by other police, so out of control they were but that doesnt fit with the ANGLE of feeding anti-Islamic fear. Re placard: did u all notice the child was carryiny it with the FRONT showing that we never get to see, I have no doubt they were given it by someone else trying to cause controversy. I support GLW's choice to defend ALL democratic protest & personally, know J wld feel more in fear at any mainstream pub on any Friday or Saturday night. Bigotry is being fed by ignorance & fear, if u value ur intelligent awarenss, read BETWEEN the lines & translate the words of escalation u hear on TV, Pax, Maree Robertson
During the 1979 Iranian revolution, the communist Tudeh party allied with Khomeini to oust the Shah. After Khomeini came to power, Tudeh was was repressed so forcefully that it was completely obliterated within few years despite surviving the repression of the Shah's SAVAK secret police. Those who don't know history is doomed to repeat it.
because the few at the rally who support sharia law or something of that nature are totally in a position to take power tomorrow.
Several of the commentators here have ranted that they will no longer support GLW because it supposedly supports "Islamo-fascism". This article is about how the protest turned violent when the police attacked the protesters. So, those commentators accept police state action when it's directed against a group they have been instructed to hate. They accept fascism, basically. And they call the people that don't "useful idiots". I'm amazed that GLW readers accept the myth of Islamofascism. Do these people also accept the claims of Green fascism, environmental fascism, and left-wing fascism generally, that are peddled by the same people on the conservative right? The people that claim that everyone to their political left is fascist, and the only solution is - a police state dictatorship?

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