Ted Baillieu has been promising to bring 'Law and Order' to the streets of Melbourne since his election in December of last year. And he has delivered. First there was the Orwellian ban on swearing. Then came the decision to construct enormous new private prisons. Last Friday night, we got a glimpse of the Liberals’ final goal - abolishing the right to political protest.
After allowing pro-Palestinian protestors to march through Melbourne Central and QV more or less unobstructed, the police sprang their trap outside the Max Brenner store. While simply standing with arms linked, chanting slogans in support of the Palestinians and the BDS campaign, peaceful protestors were attacked by what seemed to be Baillieu's new riot squad. Protesters were ‘kettled’ by riot police, before leading activists were individually targeted in what seems to be a new tactic from Baillieu’s riot squad. The strategy was simple - anybody that had made a speech during the action or happened to be holding a megaphone was a legitimate target for arrest.
An incredible19 activists were arrested, out of a demonstration of around 150 people - many of whom were arrested while sitting down. The charges include trespass, besetting, resisting arrest, and behaving in a riotous manner. 16 of the activists will be required to front the Magistrates Court on September the 5th.
The campaign is looking at more than $30,000 in fines, before legal costs.
These arrests and charges can only be understood as an unprecedented assault on the right to freedom of speech and political protest. Placing signs around Melbourne Central and QV denying protesters the right of entry. The use of trespass laws to deny the right to protest against legitimate political targets. The deliberate targeting of leading activists. In some ways the worst of all is the revival of the besetting law, an old anti-union policy that makes it illegal to picket a premises.
We cannot let the government get away with these attacks! Anyone who defends the right of pro-Palestinian activists to protest in Melbourne, anyone who is interested in defending the right to the freedom of speech and assembly, and anyone concerned by the Baillieu government's assault on civil liberties more generally is invited and welcome.