Anti Terrorism and the Criminalisation of Dissent-Lou Thatcher

This is the unedited version of a speech by Lou Thatcher, thanks Lou edited version

This is a speech given at the ‘Putting the Terror Laws on Trial’ forum organised by the Stop the War Coalition, June 23, 2008. The other speakers were Peter Russo, a lawyer who acted for Mohammed Haneef, and Frank, the uncle of one of the Goulburn 9 – a group of Muslim men from Sydney who have been held since November 2005 under anti-terror laws.

I had input from others in writing this speech, but I take responsibility for the opinions expressed in it: they’re not necessarily those of the arrestees or others in the solidarity campaign.
- Lou Thatcher

I’m from a group organising political solidarity and practical support for people facing charges after the G20 protests in 2006. One of the reasons we do this is because we see these cases as connected to, and as part of, broader struggles, so I’m grateful to Stop the War and to the other speakers for the chance to be part of this forum tonight.

We are here tonight because there has been a sustained offensive against people who represent any kind of threat to the conservative political agenda. The anti-terror legislation has been part of a sustained, racist campaign against Muslim communities and part of a justification for the government’s ongoing involvement in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. In a different but not unconnected way, we have seen some serious attacks on protests and protestors over the past few years.

So I’ll talk briefly about what has happened, the legal situation, and why we think this is important.

In November 2006 the G20, which is the finance ministers from the 20 biggest economies in the world plus a few representatives from bodies like the World Bank, met in Melbourne. They were met with protests.

On the Friday, a couple of smallish groups occupied the offices of Defence Force recruiting, Tenix – a major military contractor, and branches of ANZ bank, which is profiteering from the war in Iraq, among others. For these occupations – which lasted no more than 15 minutes and involved nothing more than red glitter and water pistols – people have been charged with ‘Aggravated Burglary’. This is a new and very serious charge for what is a fairly common action.
On the Friday night, in what I can only think of as an exercise in pre-emptive policing, a squatted warehouse that was the home to a counter-conference, and was providing accommodation for people from out of town, was busted and evicted by police, as was a residential squat which had hosted a fundraiser party but was otherwise unconnected to any protest action.

On the Saturday that the G20 was in town, as was standard for any meeting of the powerful these days, the city was blocked off. Barricades and police prevented anyone from going anywhere near where the G20 were meeting. In fact, the cops handed out little cards suggesting that everyone go and protest in a park. Thousands of people defied this to protest the G20 in the streets of central Melbourne, and a few hundred people diverged from the main rally, dismantled some barricades – which, again, shouldn’t have been there in the first place – and smashed the windows of a police van.
Now, personally, I’m happy to say that I think it was a good thing that the police van was smashed. I think what we’ve heard from other speakers tonight can go a little way towards explaining some of the reasons why people might be justifiably angry at law enforcement institutions. That’s not to say that the protest was a perfect model to be repeated, but I’m broadly in sympathy with the politics of confronting the barricades.

That being said, I also want to say that there are people who have been working in the solidarity campaign from the start who didn’t agree with the tactics on the day but who have been outspoken in their solidarity because they recognise, as I do, that the police response is out of proportion and that it is an attack on progressive movements generally and on all of our abilities to protest, whatever tactics we chose.

We also have to remember what it was that people were protesting about. People came with a variety of politics against the G20 - but whether it was opposition to the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, or opposition to neoliberalism or to neocolonialism, people were saying that they oppose the policies of the G20 member states because those policies create war and poverty - that the states are violent.

And this violence puts a couple of broken windows into perspective. Arrests began the day after these protests and continued for months – the most recent arrest was made in December last year, over a year after the alleged offences. The charges are unprecendented and very serious - people are charged with things like riot, aggravated burglary and conduct endangering life; and the severity of the charges are part of the attack.

Akin Sari

Currently a man called Akin Sari is in Barwon prison serving a 28 month prison sentence, which he’s in the process of appealing. Amongst the general media hype around the G20 protests, Akin has been singled out for special condemnation & racist vilification. All of the Children’s Court cases are finished. For the people going through adult court, 10 people agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges, which leaves 13 people who will go to trial to fight the charges. The dates for these hearings were recently set for mid next year.

There has also been an absolutely unprecedented media crackdown on those facing charges. The mass media is not generally a friend of the left, but this new campaign has taken things to another level. There has been the “dob in a thug” newspaper photos, photos of “persons of interest” – trying to isolate and demonise individuals.

corporate media hacks

What happened when people were arrested in Sydney is worth looking at more closely – because these raids are an interesting example of how the attack on protests after the G20, and before APEC, come together with the climate and infrastructure of the ‘war on terror.’
taskforce slaver

The cops responsible for APEC policing worked very closely with the Victorian police – some of them went down to monitor the G20 protests, and later, when demonstrations were held outside court, Melbourne police sent up footage to the APEC taskforce. We know all this from reading the notes of Taskforce Salver, which was the taskforce set up to catch people after the G20- many of their notes were released during the committal hearing, with some bits blacked out.
From the notes we also know that Taskforce Salver had a list of five people to arrest in Sydney. When they had this list they called up a man in the APEC taskforce called Christopher Charles Nicholson. He suggested that the Sydney arrests be coordinated through either the serious crime unit or the counter-terrorism squad.

detective hill

So Detective Hill from Taskforce Salver called up the NSW counter-terrorism squad, but the cop he talked to said that he didn’t think that those arrests fell under their brief. But, when the cops knocked on – or kicked in – our friends’ doors at 6am in March last year, officers from Taskforce Salver, the APEC taskforce and the counter terrorism squad were present. So it’s clear that someone - & I’m guessing the APEC taskforce – were able to convince the counter terrorism unit that this was an appropriate way to spend their time.

The other big connection with the APEC securitisation is the fact that all of the G20 arrestees – along with one lone Sydney anti-war activist – were the first people to be put on the APEC “excluded persons” list. Now, as all except the 5 living in Sydney were prohibited at the time from leaving Victoria because of their bail conditions – that is, they were already banned from coming within hundreds of kilometres of the “restricted zone” in the CBD – this didn’t make any sense at all. Except, of course to provide a media scapegoat.

All these connections make it clear that these cases – like other political trials – are about far more than the fate of the individuals caught up in them. In some ways, this criminalisation of dissent isn’t that new - but we are also seeing a general intensification and militarisation of policing, whether it’s the APEC security zone, the anti-terror arrests the previous speakers have detailed, or cops and troops being sent into Aboriginal communities or our Pacific neighbours to deal with alleged social problems.

The G20 arrests are part of a climate of fear and a crackdown on anything perceived of as dissent – and so, the outcome will effect all of our abilities to resist this climate and to take action for what we believe in – whether through direct action, civil disobedience, or marching in the streets.

That’s why we need a vigorous, public, political defence campaign.

The entire campaign against the arrestees – the charges, the media campaign, the hype – is geared towards intimidating people out of speaking, out of being active, out of dissenting. We need a public response to this intimidation or otherwise the isolation of activists becomes endemic. Unless we are prepared to speak up in defence of protestors, we leave individuals isolated and alone.

9 of the 13 G20 defendants

We have started to see some support from activists, organisations and unions. We need to continue building the political campaign against the charges. We have a petition to drop the charges that we would like people to sign, and take away to their workplaces and collect signatures. We would like unions and organisations to pass a motion of support for the campaign – we have a model motion – and of course to donate to our solidarity fund.
Alongside this, of course, people need a legal campaign. And that’s why they need practical and financial support as well as political solidarity – lawyers cost money, as does travel, as does not being able to work because you’re in court for months.

And the people fighting the charges in court are, in many ways, fighting for the rest of us as well as for themselves, so any help you can give will be appreciated. For more information and updates, and to download the petition, see http://www.afterG20.org. You can email afterG20@gmail.com.

Funds are needed urgently for legal and other support expenses.
If you can help, the solidarity campaign has a bank account:
Melbourne University Credit Union Limited
Account name: G20 Arrestee Solidarity Network
cuscau2sxxx (only if transferring from overseas)
BSB 803-143 A/C number: 13291 (all transfers)

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