Colin Mitchell, Melbourne
About 60 people joined a protest ride on August 20 to Barwon prison, near Geelong, where 13 Muslim men, known as the "Melbourne 13", are being held. The men were arrested in highly sensationalised raids last November, February and March under the "anti-terror laws".
The arrests took place as the federal government was about to introduce its new draconian "anti-terror" laws, deflecting attention from its unpopular industrial relations legislation. Following the arrests, the terror laws were passed without opposition.
The 13 men are being held in Guantanamo Bay style conditions: they are in solitary confinement for much of the day, given little contact with their families, humiliated with frequent strip searches and shackled when transported. These conditions constitute punishment before a trial has even to take place. The evidence against them is flimsy and unrelated to any terrorist acts.
The protest ride was organised by Civil Rights Defence (CRD) activists concerned about the impact of the "anti-terror" laws on civil liberties. CRD is campaigning to have the terror laws repealed, as the existing criminal law can adequately deal with any criminal activity associated with terrorism.
A rally outside the prison heard from the Greens, Democrats, Socialist Alliance, trade unionists and civil rights activists. Omar Merhi, brother of one of the Barwon 13, spoke movingly about the devastating effect of the terror laws on the lives of the accused men and their families, and the injustice of laws that equate talk with terrorism.
Jack Thomas had also been held at the prison before the convictions against him were quashed by the Appeals Court on August 18. Les Thomas, his brother, spoke about the tremendous relief felt by their whole family, and expressed his anger at the corporate media's use of some of the relatives of the Bali bombing victims to demonise Jack and condemn his release. Jack Thomas was exonerated of all charges of terrorism, yet much of the media still describes him as dangerous. The fact is that Jack Thomas was a non-terrorist jailed under anti-terror laws.
Tim Gooden, Geelong Trades Hall Council secretary, linked the civil rights struggle against the "anti-terror" laws and the union struggle against the draconian Work Choices laws, which are being used to fine or jail WA and Victorian workers for taking strike action. The right to strike, without punishment by the law, is a fundamental democratic right and Gooden called on everyone to join the rally to support the WA workers on August 29. He warned that the terror laws could be used against unionists taking industrial action.
Activists also took part in two workshops, one on the terror laws by Patrick Emerton from Liberty Victoria and another on the campaign against the laws by Chris Haan from CRD.
[Civil Rights Defence meets every Tuesday at 6.30pm in the International Bookshop, Trades Hall. All welcome. Visit <http://www.civilrightsdefence.org>.]