Letter to Guardian: Arrest Threatens Right to Protest

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/25/protest-students-higher-education

Edd Bauer, vice-president for education at Birmingham Guild of Students and well-known anti-cuts activist, was arrested on 16 September for suspending a banner protesting against university fees and education cuts above a public highway during the Lib Dem party conference. He was refused bail and has been held in Winson Green prison since last Monday. His detention for a minor act of civil disobedience represents yet another attempt to criminalise peaceful protest and to dissuade other young people from taking part in movements to defend education, services and jobs. At a time when prison governors are complaining that they cannot cope with the huge increase in custodial sentences after the disturbances of the summer, what purpose is served by locking up Edd Bauer?

If the objective is to frighten others, Edd’s detention has enraged and mobilised a new layer of young protesters. If the plan is to “take out” key individuals to disrupt protest movements, the result has been to give a new set of activists a crash-course in campaigning against injustice. Edd Bauer will appear in Birmingham magistrate’s court on 26 September at 3pm. We call for his release – and the right to hang our banners in peaceful protest whenever and wherever we choose.

Prof Gargi Bhattacharyya UCU NEC

Clare Short

John Smith General secretary, Musicians Union

Michael Rosen

Paul McNab Public Interest Lawyers

Mark Thomas

Michael Chessum NUS NEC and NCACF

Prof Bill Bowring

Dr Sue Blackwell Birmingham UCU

Zita Holbourne Co-chair BARAC

Daniel Guedalla Birnberg Peirce

Leslie Manasseh Deputy general secretary, Connect

Prof Alex Miller

Manuela da Costa-Fernandes NUJ Black Members Council

Prof Avtar Brah

Lorna Campbell PCS

Prof John Gabriel

Wilf Sullivan TUC

Bethany Shiner Stop Kettling Our Kids

Dr David Bailey Birmingham UCU

Dotun Alade-Odumosu GMB

Dr Sarah Amsler Campaign to Defend the Public University

Mohammad Taj Unite

Prof Les Back

Freddie Brown Prospect

Winston Phillips Bectu

NUS NEC Call for Ed’s immediate release

Every member of the National Union Of Students Executive Committee has signed a letter calling for Ed’s immediate release. The signatories are:

Liam Burns NUS President, Dannie Grufferty NUS VP Soc & Cit, Ed Marsh, Mark Bergfeld, Daniel Stevens, Alan Baily, Bicki Baars, Michael Chessum, George Charouis, Pete Mercer, Graeme Kirkpatrick, Kelly Tempe, Robin Parker, Aaron Kiely, Matt Bond, Joshi Sachdeo, Kanja Sesay, Ruby Hirsch, Shane Mann, Toni Pearce, Joe Oliver, Matt East, Josh Rowlands, Usman Ali, Adrianne Peltz, Rachel Mattey, Lauren Crowly, Estelle Hart, Luke Young, Daniel Stevens, Fiona Wood, Mateuse Wysock.

We are pleased that so many prominent student leaders are supporting Ed, and recognising the injustice of his imprisonment.

Solidarity.

Free Ed Bauer Solidarity Demo

Ed’s next bail hearing is on Monday 26th September, by which time , he will have spent 10 days in prison before trial for peacefully protesting.
We are holding a solidarity demonstration outside the Magistrates court to show our support for the individual and our disgust at the decision to remand a peaceful protester in custody.
From 3pm, outside the Magistrates court, Corporation Street, Birmingham, B4 6QA

If you are coming, please attend on our facebook event, and invite your friends to let them know about it.

Please join us, or if you can’t come to Birmingham post messages of solidarity and support here and we will pass them on to Ed.

About the Case

On Friday 16th September, 3 student activists dropped a banner reading “Traitors Not Welcome, Hate Clegg Love NCAFC” for the opening of the Liberal Democrat 2011 conference.

NCAFC is the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts: www.anticuts.com

All 3 activists were arrested and held in police cells over the weekend, charged with road traffic offences.

At their bail hearing on Monday 19th, the prosecution alleged that debris fell from the banner, causing a danger to road users, but also stated that no damage or injury was caused. The defendents denied the claim that they caused any danger to road users, and pleaded not guilty.

The prosecution asked for bail to be denied to all 3 activists because they believe them to be members of the group NCAFC, because of the Liberal Democrat conference and in the case of Ed, because of a previous conviction for aggravated trespass in relation to Kingsnorth Climate Camp, and because he is currently on bail for being part of the sit-in at Fortnum and Mason, where the senior police officer on site described the protesters as “Non-violent” and “Sensible”. It is of course worth noting that of the 145 original arrestees in that case, 6 were not charged and 109 have had charges dropped, and the remaining defendents have all pleaded not guilty, and are yet to be convicted of breaking the law.

Ed did not break any bail conditions – the only conditions of bail were to stay out of London for the Royal Wedding (and Ed did not go to the Royal Wedding, thus upholding his bail condition), and to attend court.

The other two activists who have clean records were released on bail, with conditions to keep them out of the city centre of Birmingham, as defined by the inner ring road. Ed however was remanded in custody, with a further bail hearing set for the following Monday (26th), meaning he will have spent at least 10 days in custody without trial.

In considering her verdict, the district judge specifically ruled out the existence of the conference in her decision making. The judge said that she could not be satisfied that Ed would not committ further offences if released on bail.

Since this offence, and the other unproven offence and conviction all relate to previous protests, we can only interpret this as meaning that she felt that Ed would peacefully protest again if he was not imprisoned, and that she feels it is the courts job to prevent protest by locking people up before it is shown that they have even broken the law.

The decision to hold the activists over the weekend was in itself overly heavy policing of what is a very tame form of protest, but the decision of a court to remand someone on custody – and remember this means that Ed has not had a trial yet and has not been found to have broken any laws – is almost unbelievable.

It raises the general issue of the use of the Criminal Justice system to clamp down on political dissent. This happened because the police keep dragging peaceful protesters to court, in this case almost certainly motivated by preventing embarrassing scenes at the Liberal Democrat conference, which is not the job of the courts. Remand is entirely disproportionate given that it is highly unlikely that either action, even if proven, would result in a custodial sentence.

Email: BannerDropsAreNotACrime@riseup.net
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