Seven years' jail for postering?

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BY SIMON BUTLER

BRISBANE — Activists building for the expected mass protests against corporate globalisation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on October 6 are fast learning that the Queensland police are prepared to use arrests, coercion and even threats of imprisonment to intimidate them.

The latest target was University of Queensland environment officer Leigha Coonan, who was arrested by police on August 15 for putting up posters on campus promoting the protests against CHOGM and then threatened with up to seven years in jail .

Coonan, a member of the Stop CHOGM Alliance and Queers Against Corporate Exploitation, told Green Left Weekly that she had been putting up posters advertising the Queer Bloc contingent for CHOGM when a campus security guard approached her and demanded identification. She refused to do this and began to walk back towards the university union building. Picture

A number of security guards then followed her across campus. According to Coonan, one plain-clothes guard "physically prevented me from going through the union area and he never showed me any identification or said who he was".

The police soon arrived and told Coonan that if she cooperated and came with them to the police station she would likely avoid arrest.

In the police car on the way to Indooroopilly station, Coonan was asked to give her address. A policeman then threatened that her house may have to be searched to prove it was really her address.

She was also told that she was being taken to the police station because "all CHOGM-related things have to go through a special unit".

Upon arriving at the police station, "they left me in a room for a long time and I heard them trying to work out what to charge me for", she recounted.

Coonan was then told that she was being held under suspicion of committing the unlikely offence of squirting red ink into a bus driver's eye earlier that day. The police insisted that the bus driver had been squirted by "someone with CHOGM posters in their bag".

Police then took a DNA sample and fingerprints, despite Coonan's unwillingness. "I asked twice [if I was required to do this] and the police officer said 'you have no choice'."

Upon her release Coonan was told that she was still under investigation for a charge that had a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment for being involved in a protest that would supposedly endanger "national security" and "people's lives". She had been detained for a total of four hours.

Coonan is adamant, however, that police harassment will not prevent activists from continuing to build for CHOGM.

"This is part of a general crackdown from the Brisbane City Council and the state to suppress protests against CHOGM and the free trade interests that it represents", she said.

"Posters in the city are torn down within a day of being put up. And now putting up posters has become an indictable offence. All this makes me more determined to build [protests at] CHOGM."

Karen Fletcher from the CHOGM Action Network, which is organising a mass march on the CHOGM site on October 6, defended Coonan's right to campaign against CHOGM without police harassment.

"When putting posters up on campus is a crime worthy of seven years' imprisonment we have to consider whether we live in a democratic society. Compared with the crimes of the institutions that CHOGM supports, such as the IMF and World Bank, pasting up protest posters is no crime at all.

"In fact it's an act of resistance that must be supported."

Activists on the University of Queensland sprang into action upon hearing about the arrest and are organising a rally to condemn Coonan's arrest.

"Such a gross violation of democratic freedoms cannot go unchallenged," said Katelyn Mountford, a member of the group Students Campaigning Against Multinationals, which is organising the rally.

Mountford said that, after the rally, activists plan to gather as many people as possible to plaster the campus in posters.

"Let the police arrest hundreds of students for putting up posters if they can. They won't intimidate us", said Mountford.

The action is being held on August 22 at noon in the Main Refectory, University of Queensland.

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