By Rachel Evans, in Sydney, Australia:
Eyewitness account of police riot against peaceful Muslim protest in Australia
Sunday, September 16, 2012
I was attending a small but engaging rally against internet spying on September 15, organised by the Pirate Party and others at Hyde Park North, when seven police cars and four-wheel-drives drove into the park and about 20 police officers got out.
Protesting members of the Muslim community shouting “Allahu Akbar!”, marched into the park and police told us to hurry and pack up. More police ran, in phalanx formation towards the Muslim rally.
This rally of 300-400 people included women and children, older men and young Muslims, were protesting against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, produced in California, which one woman at the rally described as “disgusting”.
I spoke to three young women who were sitting calmly on the ground about why they protested.
“We had to protest this horrible film. If Jesus had been called horrible things in a film, Christians would have protested,” one of the women said.
“The police are being too heavy,” added another woman.
The police lined up, truncheons extended, behind and in front of the Muslim protesters. One police line then advanced on the protesters, yelling. The young men in the protest moved back. A woman with a pram hurried out past the cops.
“Let’s get out of here,” said one of the young women I had been speaking to and they left to get out of the police cordon.
Police cars blocked off Macquarie Street, near the NSW Parliament, and parts of College Street. It was a huge, over the top, show of force by the police. I saw three large police dogs.
The police kept goading the protesters by shoving them back in coordinated waves of advance. The protesters were chanting through megaphones.
Then a bottle was thrown by a young man in the protest and the cops started firing pepper spray into the front row of the protest. They also sprayed it up into the crowd. There were cries of anger and “Down, down USA!” chants.
Some young protesters surged forward and the police used more pepper spray. One man was dragged off after he had an allergic reaction to the spray, according to one of the protesters. Two protesters were injured and taken to hospital, said a young woman.
A group of male protesters then formed into a circle, chanting through the megaphone.
They started praying, angry, but determined. The police stayed back as a police helicopter hummed overhead.
Onlookers came to watch the chanting, also watching the police. Young men washed their faces in the Hyde Park fountain, and came back to chant. I saw a young Muslim woman of high school age crying. The media focused on the most provocative fundamentalist placard, but I saw an older woman giving out a leaflet which said: “Islam = peace” and “Mohammed = humble”.
I met an Iraq war veteran at the rally who said he had left the army because of the crimes the occupation troops committed against the Iraqi people. He said that the community had the right to protest without police violence.
Participants in the anti-spying action filmed the police pepper spraying the protesters and the huge line of police.
One person who had marched with the rally since it started at Town Hall said: “The police didn’t let us march where we wanted to go.”
I think that if the police had left the protesters alone they would have marched, chanted and prayed in peace. Instead, the police goaded the protesters, in particular the youth, and so the police are responsible for the clashes that took place.
Their use of pepper spray and truncheons was extremely aggressive and unprovoked. There was no need to surround the rally and charge the protesters and there was no need for the police to come out in such massive force.
The police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people. But Muslim protesters get different treatment.
Muslims have been scapegoated and criminalised by state and federal governments and the mainstream media. Muslim communities are the target of intense racism and have been made fair game in this country.
Now the protesters, not the police, are being blamed by politicians and the media of the 1% and even more fear and hate is being whipped up against the Muslim population.
We should condemn the police who brutally provoked these protesters and squandered thousands of dollars in a massive show of police repression in the heart of Sydney.
Hundreds of police in central Sydney last Saturday violently broke up a group of Muslims who joined worldwide protests against the publication of a rabidly anti-Islamic video on the Internet. The media and political establishment followed the police operation with a frenzied campaign denouncing the “violence” of the protesters and demanding anti-democratic measures aimed at criminalising political protest and dissent: here.
It is clear by now that the anti-US protests sweeping the Middle East are about far more than a crude Islam-bashing film: here.
The ban on protests against anti-Muhammad cartoons is a frontal attack on democratic rights in France: here.