Three supporters of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) were arrested on 19 September following a banner-drop at the Liberal Democrat conference in Birmingham.
In a move plainly intended to intimidate anti-cuts protesters, the three were charged with a minor road traffic offense (causing danger to road traffic users — although the prosecution admitted that no damage or injury resulted from the three’s actions).
Two were bailed, on condition that they stay away central Birmingham until their trial; and a third has been remanded in custody until 26 September, when a second hearing will decide whether or not he will be bailed until his trial in late October.
The student and workers’ movements must protest against the imprisonment of an activist for peacefully hanging a banner!
Claire Lister, a witness, said “The banner drop was very peaceful and no disruption or danger was caused to motorists. When the police arrived at the bridge the men left immediately and went willingly into custody.”
Michael Chessum, of the NCAFC and National Union of Students National Executive Committee, said, ”It is appalling that students taking part in peaceful protest are being victimised in this way. It is ludicrous that anyone would be remanded in custody for a minor traffic charge. Whether it’s kettles, intimidation, or tactical charges — it is becoming increasingly difficult for students and young people to say that they have a meaningful right to protest.”
The treatment of the NCAFC supporters is consistent with a worrying turn towards more hardline treatment by the courts.
Sentences handed out by magistrates to those convicted of offences during the August riots were over twice as long as those convicted of similar offences in 2010. Crown court sentences averaged 18 months, as opposed to under a year for similar crimes last year.
The statistics, which come from the Ministry of Justice, also show that a higher proportion of those convicted of riot offences had no previous history within the criminal justice system than did those convicted for similar offences in 2010, casting doubt over justice secretary Ken Clarke’s claim that the riots were the work of “existing criminals on the rampage”. An investigation by the Financial Times this month found that over 33% of those arrested in relation to rioting in London lived in the poorest fifth of the city.
Students and other activists should pay attention to this trend and step up campaigns against police and legal crackdowns.