Police escalate repression of refugee rallies

December 2, 2017
Police detain an injured protester during a refugee rights rally in Melbourne on November 24. Photo: Liz Walsh

Victoria Police are being used by the state Labor government to threaten and harass protesters who have been organising in support of asylum seekers on Manus Island. Activists described the behaviour of the police at a recent rally as state sanctioned violence.

On November 24, a neo-Nazi grabbed the rally microphone and began screaming into it that refugees were rapists and that they should not be bought to Australia.

When an anti-racist activist tried to grab the microphone back to give it to the rally chair, he was head locked by one of the racists. The police intervened, handcuffed the activist and arrested him. The racist disruptor was escorted away.

A protester who had tried to stop the police from arresting the protester was then surrounded by many police, shoved to the ground, and had his head kneeled on by one of the officers. He was already bleeding profusely, but the police did nothing to assist the injured man.

Instead, they called for more police. Rather than allow a near-by ambulance to come to his aid, the police bundled him into a police van.  

The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) released a statement on November 29 saying that a section of the rally had tried to stop the racists.

“One man was subsequently plucked from a group linking arms and knocked to the ground by police. He cut his head and was bleeding profusely.” It described how the police had prevented an ambulance from coming to the scene, and said the police had used capsicum spray on three other refugee supporters.

Police numbers have been increasing at each of the weekly protests. On November 24, hundreds of police in full riot gear were deployed to prevent the rally from occupying the Flinders and Swanton Street intersections, as happened on November 4.

The increasingly hostile police response fits with the Daniel Andrews government’s law and order agenda, which is supported by the Liberal opposition. In May, Andrews promised to deploy 3100 extra police officers on the streets. The state budget allocated an extra $2 billion in funding for the police.

A significant amount of new police resources is being deployed at refugee rights rallies. Apart from the number of police, including mounted officers, the police are wearing new body armour and many large police trucks have been present, as if we present a danger.

RAC, which has held peaceful rallies for well over a decade without incident, said: “Far from keeping us safe, the police have allowed fascists to attack multiple rallies, and now arrested the people who stood up to the fascists.”

The same high numbers of police were deployed at the refugee rights action on November 29 organised by GetUp!, where they also blocked the rally from marching. A photographer reported that police threatened the protesters with pepper spray.

Moreland Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton criticised the increasing state sanctioned violence as an example of “political policing” and an attack on our democratic right to protest.

In Sydney, NSW police have been trying to intimidate refugee rights activists with home visits. The police have come under fire for strip searching two refugee rights activists, later releasing them without charge.

In the context of the growing anger at the government’s cruel policy of offshore detention, the attempt to intimidate activists is not going to work. We refuse to be intimated. We know that this heavy handed response by the police, and the state governments for whom they work, means that the pressure is building on the federal government to free the refugees on Manus Island and to bring them here.

Opposition to offshore detention is growing: churches, unions, health workers, teachers, media workers, finance sector workers, grandmothers and many more know how to stand firm, united against intimidation and say “We won’t be silenced”.

Video of the November 26 rally is available here.]

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