Jock Palfreeman should be hailed, not jailed

A rally for Jock Palfreeman was held in Sydney on April 30.

In a different world — in a better world — Jock Palfreeman would not be in a jail serving a 20-year sentence. Instead he'd be awarded a medal for great courage, principle and instinctive support for victims of racist violence.

He would not be locked away in a jail in Bulgaria. He’d be toured around as an example of the sort of person we should all aspire to be. One who stands up for the underdog, who refuses to tolerate oppression and injustice.

His extraordinarily brave act in coming to the defence of two Roma men being attacked by a violent gang one dark night in Sofia, Bulgaria, would be discussed and studied in schools all over the world — as I believe it is studied in his old school, Riverview.

And Jock would be awarded a medal or honour not for this single act of courage and principle but for serial acts of courage and principle since he was a high school student. Because this is not the first time he has demonstrated these outstanding values.

If standing up for what is right is an “offence”, then Jock is a serial offender. And we are proud of him for that.

I cannot claim to know Jock personally but I did meet him when he was one of several high school activists who played a fantastic role in the Books Not Bombs protests against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Powerful political figures and the mainstream media then tried to paint the Books Not Bombs protests as violent and meaningless acts of high school students simply out to wag school. What an insult that was to a generation of young people who demonstrated in the streets that they had the guts to stand up against an unjustifiable war that has since killed more than a million people.

Ten years later, after all this killing, and with Iraq and the whole region seeing neither peace nor freedom, who dares to say Jock and his fellow student protesters were wrong?

And this wasn't the only issue in which Jock, as a high school student, showed exceptional courage and principle. He also organised protests against Australia's shameful treatment of asylum seekers. You can find a record of this in a local newspaper article from many years ago when he was in Kings College.

So on what could be described as one of the biggest moral issues in Australia today, one of Australia's most shameful political positions — sadly promoted by Liberal and Labor parties alike — Jock also deserves recognition for courage and principle and for speaking out for the oppressed and persecuted.

Even since Jock was unjustly jailed in Bulgaria — and you can read what a travesty this case was in ABC TV journalist Belinda Hawkins' excellent book Every Parent's Nightmare — he has demonstrated his exceptional courage and principle by helping organise his fellow prisoners into a union to stand up against the systematic abuse and maltreatment they suffer at the hands of corrupt and brutal prison guards and authorities.

Most other people in Jock's position would be keeping their heads down in prison, hoping to survive the ordeal.

He should be freed but the Australian government should also energetically work for his prison transfer to Australia — at least as a first step towards justice.

There is also a question of money. Jock's family and supporters have been campaigning to raise funds to pay an estimated $600,000 in court costs and damages awarded by the Bulgarian courts to some of the gang members who attacked the Roma men and then Jock when he bravely came to their defence. It's a “ransom” his family is being forced to pay before a prison transfer can even be considered.

Again this is grossly unjust. And Jock, I believe, bristles with indignation at the thought of the wrong-doers being rewarded. But again we want to bring Jock home, so we are calling for donations.

I will end on this and I want to thank all of you for coming to this protest. With all our signs, the petition and the speeches we’ve sent a good first message.

We want justice, bring Jock home.

[Peter Boyle is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Sydney. This is an abridged version of a speech he gave to a rally to bring Jock home in Sydney on April 30.]

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