By Edmund Kirkwood
Last week the Supreme Court upheld a NSW Police ban on a pro-Palestine protest against the opening of the Israeli Film Festival on Oxford Street.
The protest went ahead on August 21 despite the ban. The protestors were forced by police to hold the demonstration in Taylor Square rather than their intended location outside Palace Verona cinemas.
Protestors were concerned about police brutality and heavy-handedness during the demonstration.
“The 120 protesters were contained in Taylor Square by lines of riot police and horses,” said Palestine Action Group activist Damien Ridgwell.
“As they walked in small groups up Oxford St towards the Palace Verona Cinema, they were continually shoved and jostled by riot police, and prevented from peacefully assembling outside the cinema, despite their expressly stated intention of not blocking the footpath.”
The NSW Police said the protestors went against police advice.
“The protestors were generally compliant, however a group of 30 protestors attended the theatre against police advice. They were given a lawful direction to disperse which was complied with,” a spokesperson said.
In handing down its decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court’s Justice Hidden stressed that the courts do not have the right to ban or to authorise protests. The court cited potential traffic disruption as the reason for upholding the police ban.
Nick Reimer of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign has decried the Court’s ruling and described the result as a “naked instance of the use of the police service for political purposes”.
“This has every appearance of a politically motivated bid to silence pro-Palestine activists,” Mr Reimer said.
“The Police and the Supreme Court have acted to stifle democratic freedoms in this state. Their conduct should be condemned by everyone who cares about basic rights.”
Last week, Mr Ridgwell was confident the Supreme Court would uphold the right to protest, arguing that the it had previously ruled in similar circumstances that the disruption of traffic is not a sufficient reason to ban a demonstration.
Mr Ridgwell also labelled the ban an “outrageous act of political censorship”, and criticised the organisers of the Israeli Film Festival for their involvement in advocating Israeli occupation.
“The organisers of the Israeli Film Festival have vocally campaigned in support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Today we campaign for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. By attempting to ban the protest the NSW police is denying our freedom of expression and right to protest.”
Organisers said that the move had its desired effect of discouraging citizens from attending the protest and according to organisers, the overall turnout was cut by a significant factor.
Mr Ridgwell and the Palestinian Activist Group has vowed to continue their actions against the Israeli Film Festival over the next few weeks.
“We will not be intimidated by the NSW Police, we will continue to stand up against Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians.”
The NSW Police Force (NSWPF) maintained they support the right to protest.
“NSWPF supports the right to protest but we also have a responsibility to keep the general public and protesters safe,” a spokesperson said.