Mass arrests of protesters on a scale not seen since the Poll Tax Riot of 1990 have been used against people demonstrating in London for Palestinian rights.
Now 69 people arrested during and after the marches against the Israeli assault on Gaza that began at the end of last year face jail terms of up to five years.
The Stop the War Coalition, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Muslim Council of Britain were among the groups organising the demonstrations held on 28 December last year and 3, 10 and 24 January this year.
The protests exploded onto the streets of London after people saw images of the horror and devastation that Israel inflicted on some of the poorest people in the world.
Defendants appeared before West London Magistrates Court on Thursday and Friday of last week for plea entry hearings.
Some 61 of the defendants, mostly Muslim men aged between 17 and 20, are accused of violent disorder.
The remaining eight are facing a range of charges. One is accused of actual bodily harm, one of failing to appear at bail, one of common assault, and another of two counts of obstructing a person assisting the police.
A fifth is accused of using racially aggravated language, a sixth of assaulting a police officer, a seventh of burglary and criminal damage, along with violent disorder, and an eighth of criminal damage.
Matt Foot is a solicitor representing four of the defendants. He told Socialist Worker, “These scale of the charges have not been seen since the poll tax demonstrations.
“There seems to be a policy of imposing stringent bail conditions on everyone, just on the basis that this was a demonstration about an international issue.”
Bail conditions include some defendants having to turn their passports in to their local police stations, and having to live and sleep every night at the same address.
Some are not allowed to leave Britain or apply for international travel documents.
While in court, the public gallery had to be vacated several times due to the young age of a number of the defendants.
Of the defendants entering a not guilty plea, only three did not have their passports confiscated. One is on jobseekers’ allowance and needs to provide his passport for applications.
Another is an academic who needs to travel abroad for a conference next month.
And the other is an Israeli citizen who was arrested on a counter‑protest. He has been allowed to return to Israel until his committal hearing in December.
Many of the accused were arrested months after the demonstration, some as late as July.
One defendant had his house raided at 4.30am. His father accompanied him to court and spoke to Socialist Worker.
He said, “I’ve been in this country for 47 years and I’ve never seen anything like that – 25 officers to come and get a boy. The police are treating people like they’re nothing.
“I’ve been on all the demonstrations against the ‘war on terror’ since day one. I don’t take sides between Muslim and non‑
Muslim countries, we are all the same. I just don’t like war.
“We have seen disaster in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan – where next? Iran, Bangladesh? You cannot send armies into other countries and claim the land as your own.
“It is right to protest, to say this has to stop.”
The Stop the War Coalition is organising a defence campaign for defendants who have pled not guilty or who have so far not entered a plea – the majority of the accused.
Several appeared before youth court hearings, where details of the cases are not released.
One case, a charge of criminal damage, was resolved on Thursday of last week. The accused had been found with unopened bottles of red food dye in his bag as he was stopped and searched during the 10 January demonstration.
He pled guilty and was given 12 months conditional discharge and ordered to pay £100 costs.
The adult cases are to be sent to Isleworth Crown Court in the new year, but first they are due to go to committal hearings at West London Magistrates Court on the 10, 17 and 21 December.