A report released on May 14 by the Federation of Community Legal Centres of Victoria, accused police of using excessive and unwarranted force against protesters and bystanders during the November 17-19 G20 summit in Melbourne of international finance ministers.
The report, which was prepared by the federation's human rights observer team, found that there were "numerous observed incidents of inappropriate use of force and potentially unlawful police behaviour towards some protesters. These included dangerous overhead baton strikes, arbitrary arrests and the reported failure by police to issue warnings prior to a baton charge on a peaceful group of protesters."
The report suggests that the police and the corporate media have a common view of the G20 protesters: "Images of violence by some protesters at the G20 have been used to represent the event as a whole and disseminate a stereotype of widespread violence. This police and media strategy is similar to the way in which police forces and the media have sought to characterise large global justice demonstrations throughout the world. In our view, this representation of protest activity as inherently violent is a means of eroding public confidence in the value of protest, and the importance of the human rights which protect this form of democratic activity."
The report is all the more damning in that it does not take a unilateral view that all the violence was from police officers. It commends the police for improvements in management since the policing of the S11 protests in 2000 and says that some of the protester behaviour was "provocative".
The observer team expressed extreme concern at the follow-up raids and arrests carried since the protest. One human rights observer reported statements by a shop attendant at a food store on Swanston Street who observed the "arrest" of Drasko Boljevic, on the morning of November 16.
"Four or five big men entered the shop, circled him, one said, 'We've been looking for you'. One nudged him aggressively; another said something in his ear. The guy with tassels tried to back out of the circle, seemed frightened and asked, 'What have I done?' They tipped him upside down, put his hands behind his back and he was put in a car outside."
The "four or five big men" were police officers, but did not identify themselves.
The report said they "pulled his pants down, searched him and cut his backpack off his back". Then some plain-clothes detectives arrived and identified themselves. It was not until then, about 25 minutes after Boljevic's abduction, that he was informed he was under arrest, though no reason was given.
During later interrogation, he was told he had been arrested for assaulting a police officer at the G20 protest. However, Boljevic was not in Melbourne on the day he was alleged to have committed the offence.
Some three hours after he had been detained by the police, it became evident to them that they had detained the wrong person, and he was released 30 minutes later.
Upon arriving home, Boljevic observed bruising on his right eyebrow and suffered neck discomfort, which he contributed to the way he had been dealt by the cops in the van.
Boljevic's experience may have been indicative of how other "suspects" detained by the Victoria Police during the G20 protests and in the subsequent raids were treated.
Gary Jamieson, Victoria Police's assistant commissioner for Region 1, which covers Melbourne's CBD area, issued a statement in response to the legal centre report saying, "we believe that we responded in an appropriate way faced with a large number of protesters intent on creating mayhem".
The Federation of Community Legal Centres is the peak body for Victoria's 51 community legal centres. For further information, phone Anthony on 0407 815 333 or Hugh on 0403 965 340. A full copy of the report is available online.
[Dale Mills was a human rights observer during the G20 demonstration and a contributor to the G20 report.]