G20 protestor: 'We are not the dangerous ones'

Friday, March 23, 2007

Below is an abridged account by Tim Davis-Frank of the police raid on his home and his arrest in Sydney on March 14. His "crime" was to take part in the protests outside the G20 meeting in Melbourne last November. Davis-Frank is the University of Sydney student representative council's global solidarity officer. Four G20 protesters from Sydney went to court on March 19, and will face court again in Melbourne on May 11.

On March 14 I was woken at 6am by eight armed men and women who had demanded entry to my family home. They identified themselves as officers from the NSW police, Victoria police, federal police and counter-terrorism agents.

Two other officers in dark clothing and with gloves came around to the back of the house to stop any attempted escape, and one officer filmed everything. The police explained that the raid was related to the G20 protests I had attended in Melbourne last November. After seizing clothing and my university backpack, I was arrested and taken to Surry Hills police station.

Some 48 other students and activists around Australia have been similarly arrested over the past four months. (In some cases the arrest led to serious personal injuries, significant property damage, loss of jobs and, in one case, being locked up for a month without bail.)

This arrest is the second time I have experienced the force of Victorian counter-terrorism agents in relation to the G20 protest. On the night of November 18, in Melbourne, I was snatched by about eight unidentifiable men and forced into an unmarked white van as I was walking with friends away from the protest.

Without identifying themselves, the men in the van tied my hands behind my back, forced me to lie face down on the floor and proceeded to interrogate me, punching me repeatedly in the face if I didn't answer their questions quickly enough and once for accidentally calling one of them "mate".

But this is not just a story about me, or a story about Melbourne. The arrests resulting from the Melbourne protests are not isolated examples of new policing techniques. This is not simply a case of protesters taking things too far and police having to hunt down and arrest the criminal thugs responsible. This is not an occasion when things "went wrong" in isolation.

Riot police and counter-terrorism snatch squads have also been deployed at rallies calling for David Hicks to be freed, anti-VSU ("voluntary student union") student rallies in Sydney, anti-war demonstrations, global warming awareness campaigns and marches against industrial relations changes. Police surveillance and undercover "snatches" are happening on university campuses with, alarmingly, support from university administration and security forces.

Without counting the G20 arrestees, over the last year-and-a-half at least three dozen students at Sydney University alone have been arrested and charged in court for protesting, some multiple times. Less than a handful of these cases were for anything more serious than refusing to move away from the protest and the large majority didn't resist arrest.

Yet these people have spent sometimes over a year going through the court processes, and they face the possibility of criminal records.

This type of "policing" is taking place as media organisations are increasingly controlled by fewer and fewer powerful interests and public broadcasters. Academic and scientific communities are frequently raising alarm about government censorship of their findings. Military and intelligence leaders are attacked for speaking about military tactics or concerns that do not match those of the government.

Protesters are not the only people who worry about the state of the world. Yes, the protests in Melbourne made striking front-page photographs. Yes, there was a lot of passion, anger, and verbal and physical expressions of dissent. Yes, normally this dissent is not expressed in such a public manner. But, no, this was not an example of random violence or thuggish behaviour.

I went to the G20 protests to have my dissenting voice heard: the response has been extreme repression, inter-state anti-terror raids, media stigmatisation, public ridicule and jail sentences. We are concerned citizens, concerned students, concerned human beings. A world without people who speak up is not a safer world.

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