Protests for Wikileaks, Sydney marchers defy police harassment

Sydney rally in defence of Wikileaks, December 14. Photo by Pip Hinman.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Supporters of whistleblowing website Wikileaks rallied in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide on December 14, as Wikileaks editor-in chief Julian Assange faced a bail hearing at Westminster magistrates court in London that day. Protesters opposed attempts by governments and corporations to shut down and harrass the site.

About 800 people gathered in Sydney to call for Assange to be granted a fair trial and to defend Wikileaks. About 1000 marched in Melbourne and 300 in Adelaide.

Police liaising with rally organisers attempted to shut the rally down, citing insufficient notice and lack of police resources due to the need to provide officers to facilitate crowds attending American talk-show host Oprah's show filming at Circular Quay.

"The police told us this afternoon they would not allow a march because there were not enough officers available to facilitate the march," commented Patrick Langosch, a spokesperson for the Support Wikileaks Coalition that organised the rally.

"We arrived to find police everywhere, including dogs, horses, motorbikes and riot vans, clearly it was an attempt to intimidate protesters rather than any actual logistical problems."

The rally went ahead with a peaceful gathering at Sydney's Town Hall square.

The crowd heard from speakers including journalist and author Antony Loewenstein, Director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism Wendy Bacon, Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation Stuart Rees, Greens MLC David Shoebridge, media union NSW vice-president Marcus Strom, Pirate Party spokesperson Rodney Serkowski, and two of the rally organisers Kiraz Janicke and Patrick Langosch.

Video of the speakers and march

The opposition of the police to a march was explained to the crowd. In a vote on whether to march anyway, the large majority loudly voiced its support.

After initially being hemmed in to the square by police, protesters marched down the footpath of George Street in the city's CBD, towards the US Consulate General in Martin Place.

Police instructed rally-goers to cross the street at the intersection of George St and King St. Despite complying with police orders, several officers forcefully confiscated banners from activists in the middle of the busy intersection and shoved several activists to the ground. At one point, mounted police were deployed against protesters. Police also appeared with dogs straining on their leashes.

Police damaged and removed at least one banner that read "Defend Wikileaks, Free Julian Assange." Two activists were also dragged across the street by police and were threatened with arrest. Senior Constable O'Neill from St George police refused to provide a reason for removing the activists from the rally.

Four protesters were arrested, although none were charged and have received fines.

"Citizens were violently brutalised by the NSW police in the act of arrest, in order to enforce traffic violations that amount to a $57 fine," Langosch said.

The rally reached the US Consulate General in Martin Place where demonstrators chanted: "Whose streets? Our streets! Defend Wikileaks" and spoke in support of freedom of information and accountability and transparency in diplomacy.

Loewenstein, the rally chair, wrote on his blog on December 15: "Today’s rally for Wikileaks in Sydney was a success, apart from the excessively brutal police force seemingly determined to not allow citizens the right to protest in the streets," said Antony Loewenstein on his blog on December 14.

More pics of Sydney rally

In Melbourne, the scene was different. Police peacefully facilitated a rally outside the State Library, followed by a march of about 1000 people through peak-hour traffic, from Swanston Street to the British Consulate on Collins Street. Click here or on pic for more pics of the Melbourne rally and march.

In Adelaide, 300 people rallied outside Parliament House then marched down Rundle Mall.

About 200 people rallied at Garema Place in Canberra on December 16. The crowd heard speeches from renowned historian Humphrey McQueen, award-winning Australian National University lecturer and Socialist Alternative member Rick Kuhn, UnionsACT secretary Kim Sattler and ACT Legislative Assembly speaker and Greens member Shane Rattenbury.

Further actions have been called for Friday December 17 in Melbourne and Saturday, December 18 in Brisbane. The SWC in Sydney is also organising a big rally for January 15, which will hopefull be the date the rallies nationally and internationally in defence of Wikileaks.

Assange has been in solitary confinement in a British jail for the past week. He was denied bail after voluntarily handing himself over to British police in relation to requests from Swedish police to question Assange over sexual molestation allegations.

Supporters of Assange have argued the highly unusual act of denying Assange bail has less to do with the allegations agaisnt him from Sweden and more to do with the openly stated fact that the United States government is seeking to bfind charges to bring agaisnt Assange and to have him extradited to the US.

Assange was finally granted bail and released on remand on December 16. He faces further hearings over Sweden’s extradition attempt.

Below: Kiraz Janicke, a rally organiser and Socialist Alliance activist, addresses Sydney’s rally, December 14.