The free media meet Canberra cops

December 11, 1991

By Nadya Stani

I am a journalist who works in public radio. I was arbitrarily arrested at the anti-Aidex protest. My colleague, Annamarie Antonio, and her daughter were subjected to physical intimidation and harassment.

We began our coverage of Aidex with the press conference held by Desiko — the company responsible for the exhibition. We were informed by a Desiko media official that Sir William Keyes was "just going to make a few statements". The message was clear — we weren't to ask embarrassing questions.

Most of the journalists, however, did ask pertinent questions — including ourselves. But our problem was that Sir William Keyes dismissed us and we persisted:

Q: Human rights abuses have been well documented in Indonesia and the Philippines. Yet they are major buyers of Australian arms. How can you argue in favour of this?

A: You're just using the same old clichés that all these people are referring to here ...

Q: I don't think that they're clichés ... the Philippines bought $3 million worth of arms last year. I think you should respond to that.

A: Well, sometimes they need the products that we produce if they're using them for legitimate reasons ...

Q: Australia has a defence relationship with Indonesia. You're calling for an inquiry (into the massacre in East Timor), yet you're continuing with the Aidex exhibition. It seems an irony.

A: Indonesia is not the only country in the world ... and Indonesian buyers are not represented here ... that's a minuscule part of this whole exercise.

Q: ... minuscule? It means a lot of lives, Sir William Keyes.

A: Okay, everything has its negatives ...

It went on until the nervous and very irate Desiko media official pushed Annamarie out of the way, saying that there were more important people than her. He told me that I had asked too many questions.

Outside, protesters were blockading the road, and we attempted to cover the event. We began to walk towards a cluster of journalists and camera people who had gathered near the blockade.

We were immediately intercepted by two police officers who told us that they feared for the safety of Annamarie's child, Karina, and that we should move out of the area. We thanked them and continued to walk towards the media who were gathered on one side of the road. The police followed and kept on asking Annamarie to move out of the area. Annamarie responded by saying that she would take responsibility for her child. They refused to accept this and gave her an order to move out of the way or they would call in officers to have her removed. She continued to argue her position with them. I also argued with them. We told them that we were journalists. They told us they didn't care who we were.

Finally, Annamarie decided to comply and was process of moving out of the area. At the same time, however, they had brought in the TRG, who demanded that I move out of the area as well. Surprised, I refused, stating that I was a journalist and had a right to report on what was happening.

But I was grabbed by two TRG officers, who promptly bent my wrists and twisted my arms. I yelled, "Let me go!" The officer said, "Are you going to come quietly or am I going to do this?" — giving me a Chinese burn. I repeated, "I am a journalist and have a right to be here." They increased their force and I increased my protests. I screamed from the pain and they continued to inflict more pain and violence upon me.

They lifted me up and I fell to the ground. I got up and they grabbed my arms again and kept twisting and twisting. I screamed and protested. They led me to the paddy wagon and there twisted my arms and wrists much much harder. I thought my arms were about to break and I screamed loudly. The officer told me to stop screaming.

I was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and obstructing a vehicle. To my memory, there were no vehicles in the area.

Annamarie had been pushed out of the way. Three officers covered her view until they pushed her a distance away from where I was. She was then pushed again by another TRG officer until she was on the highway. Her questions were unanswered, her pleas ignored.

When she recovered, she asked police at the protest site of my whereabouts. They seemed not to know. Even the police at the station where I was held seemed not to know.

It was five hours before I was released. My appearance in court ended with a $500 bail, forfeited if I returned to the Aidex site. Subsequent attempts and pressure by 2SER (the station for which I work) to revoke this condition were fruitless.

While I (to my knowledge) was the only media person arrested and charged, other media people were harassed. Some were pulled by the nape of the neck and thrown out of the way, some punched or thrown into the crowds. Another public radio journalist from Melbourne was harassed by Desiko security and our friendly media official. He was stopped from attending the press conference until it was nearly over.

The media were often herded away by police when protest actions took place. Many protesters have claimed that a lot of violence often took place then.

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