Joint Statement: Civil Rights Groups Condemn Police Repression of Port Botany Rally

NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Human Rights Law Centre and Australian Democracy Network
are deeply concerned about the heavy-handed police repression of a peaceful protest near
Port Botany yesterday evening.

The protest, organised by Unionists for Palestine, consisted of a group of about 400, with
children and elderly people in attendance, making speeches and marching. Police did not allow
the protest to march on the road and instead directed it onto a roadside path leading to Sirius
Rd near the entrance of Port Botany. No vehicles were attempting to enter via this road during
this time.

When the protest paused near this driveway and protestors were peacefully sitting on the
ground, police issued move on orders and began arresting attendees. Legal observers and
others on the scene did not witness a reason being given for the move on orders.

Move on orders can only be validly given to a genuine demonstration when there is a serious
risk to the safety of any person or persons are obstructing traffic. We are concerned that
police issued move on orders and arrested individuals for alleged failure to comply with
these orders when no serious risk to safety was present and no traffic was observed to
be obstructed by the protestors.

We are further concerned by reports of excessive use of force by police, including a
protestor being pinned down on the ground by 3 officers with one officer pushing down on her
back with his knee and several protestors being apprehended with a wrist hold which bent their
hands forward to the point of them screaming in pain. Mounted police advanced on the crowd
in a way that resulted in a crowd crush, with several protestors having to climb over a
fence to avoid being trampled by police horses. Police also physically pushed several
independent legal observers and obstructed their capacity to observe.

So far, at least 7 individuals have been charged with disrupting a major facility under
s214A of the Crimes Act. This offence was brought in as part of repressive anti-protest laws
rushed through Parliament in less than 3 days last year. Individuals exercising their democratic
right to protest should not face 2 years in jail and a $22,000 fine. We call on the NSW
government to repeal this regressive law and for the charges against protestors to be

Several individuals have been given harsh bail conditions, including that they “undertake to
participate in an unlawful protest’. There is no specific offence of ‘unlawful protest activity’ and
individuals cannot know if a protest they participate in will give rise to unlawful activity. In effect,
the only way for an individual to adhere to this condition is to not participate in protests at all.
This is out of step with the right of public assembly recognised by NSW courts and the freedom
of political communication in the Constitution.

We call on the NSW government and NSW Police to respect the right to protest and
ensure that individuals can gather to express their political views without police

Ray Yoshida, Campaigner at the Australian Democracy Network said

The right to protest is fundamental in a healthy democracy. Protests can be inconvenient, they
can be disruptive, but that does not make them violent. We urge the NSW government and
NSW police to abide by the Declaration of our Right to Protest endorsed by over 60 civil society
groups to ensure our democratic rights are fully realised.

David Mejia-Canales, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said

The right to protest is a cornerstone of a robust democracy, it provides all of us with a way of
holding the powerful to account. Temporary disruptions caused by protest do not undermine the
duty that governments and their agencies have to guarantee the right to protest and to protect
protesters. The Minns Government has a legal duty to guarantee the right to peaceful protest
and to prevent the NSW Police Service from interfering with or violating the enjoyment of our
right to peacefully protest.

Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said

The right to protest needs to be protected, even if protests are considered disruptive,
controversial or inconvenient. The political and police response to protestors and protest
movements has become increasingly hostile over the last decade and has resulted in the
demonisation of protestors and protest movements. This must immediately stop. Protesting is
an important civil liberty and human right, which also acts to strengthen social cohesion and
allows people to fully participate in the social and political aspects of our democracy. We call
upon both the NSW Government and NSW Police to support the right to protest and specifically,
the Declaration on our Right to Protest. The anti protest laws must be repealed if NSW is to be
an open and free state. We all have a role to play in protecting the fabric of our democracy and
it starts with protecting our right to protest.

Nikita White, Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia said

Amnesty International has documented the repression of protests defending Palestinian human rights around the world, particularly in Europe. This repression is unacceptable, and we are incredibly concerned that peaceful protesters have been charged under s214A of the Crimes Act, had harsh bail conditions imposed on them, alongside reports of excessive force.  

Under international human rights standards, protests that are not authorised and involve non-violence direct action are protected under the right to peacefully assemble. People should never face 22 years in prison or tens of thousands in fines for exercising their right to protest peacefully. We call on the NSW Police and Government to protect and facilitate the people of NSW’s right to peacefully assemble, as is their obligation under international human rights standards.