Defend the right to protest! Defend the Gaza demonstrators!

The British state has moved to marginalise those who want to resist imperialism in this country, and especially to criminalise those who take a militant stance against Zionism. In the course of 2009, 119 mostly young and predominantly Muslim people were arrested in connection with the demonstrations outside the London Israeli embassy in December 2008 and January 2009 against Israel’s murderous attack on the people of Gaza. 78 of them were charged; by late March around 30 had received prison sentences and court cases continue.

At least 1,400 people died in Israel’s Operation ‘Cast Lead’, 5,500 were injured and tens of thousands left homeless. There was worldwide outrage and thousands took to the streets to voice their opposition and disgust. London was the scene of militant and angry daily demonstrations around the Israeli Embassy.

The British police retaliated brutally, ‘kettling’ and batoning demonstrators. Since then dozens of protestors have been arrested. Most of the arrests took place six months after the demonstrations, following dawn raids during which the police handcuffed entire families and confiscated electronic material.

Most of those arrested were 16-20 years old, but some were just 15, and the youngest 12. The vast majority have been charged with violent disorder, which can carry a prison sentence of up to five years. At court almost all of the defendants were required to surrender their passports and, despite the fact that they are overwhelmingly British citizens, all were served with immigration notices which stated that they could be deported depending on the outcome of criminal proceedings.

Judge Denniss, who is presiding over the vast majority of the cases, has made it clear that he is deliberately using harsh sentences as a deterrent to others in the future. These are political sentences; they are intended to criminalise protest and they are specifically aimed at the Muslim community in an attempt to frighten people away from public protests.

Two women, aged 18 and 19, were sentenced to 15 months imprisonment. One was subsequently released following an appeal against the length of her sentence. A Palestinian man, who days before had seen images in the press of the dead bodies of two of his cousins in Gaza, has been gaoled for two years for violent disorder. A humanities student, who is the father of a five-month old baby also received two years. A dental student who threw a plastic bottle in the direction of the Israeli embassy has received a 12-month sentence. So far all those imprisoned have accepted legal advice to plead guilty. The trials of those maintaining not guilty pleas have recently begun. On 24 March the case against Jake Smith was dropped, when it became apparent that the police had selectively edited video footage.

As the trials continue, more and more young anti-imperialists are going to be sent to prison. FRFI is participating in the campaign to defend and support all those facing the racist vengeance of the British state.

For more details, see

Ihtisham Haque

FRFI 214 April / May 2010


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