Socialist Worker

Gaza trials: ‘Don’t give in - plead not guilty’

Protesters against Israel’s war on Gaza have found you can resist legal pressure

Issue No. 2194

There was good news last week from the trial of those arrested at the protests against the Israeli invasion of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

Yasin Gsouma, accused of violent disorder, was found not guilty by the jury and is now free.

Another defendant was sentenced to four months – much less than others who pleaded guilty to violent disorder and other crimes.

Many of these earlier defendants had no previous convictions, but were under intense pressure from police and some legal advisers to plead guilty.

But these verdicts show that such pleas do not necessarily mean short sentences.

Some of those who pled guilty in the trials were sentenced to two and a half years.

The trials of other defendants are continuing.

Awareness of the trial is growing, and the campaign to defend the accused is strengthening.

Resistance gets results – as the case of Khalid Afeneh shows.

Khalid is 25 years old and has no criminal record. The Metropolitan Police arrested him on 7 January 2009 while taking part in a protest outside the Israeli embassy.

Khalid was accused of throwing a sandbag at a police sergeant, resulting in a perforated eardrum. Police arrested him on the spot for actual bodily harm and violent disorder.

They dragged him away from the demonstration, ripping his clothes. He was held in a restraint position that stopped him from breathing for around 15 seconds.

Police then put him in front of a pro-Zionist demonstration happening nearby.

“They stood me there, handcuffed and humiliated, for ten minutes,” Khalid told Socialist Worker. “Police watched as pro-Israelis shouted abuse and insults at me.”

Khalid was taken to a west London police station where he was held until 3pm the next day.

Khalid declined legal representation at the police station. “I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. I knew I was totally innocent. I answered all their questions and told them that they had acted badly, manhandling protesters.”

Khalid was released on bail, but had to appear at Hammersmith police station on 30 January 2009.

“I thought I’d be going in to pick my clothes up and be told to buzz off home”, he said.

But that wasn’t what happened. Police told Khalid, “We’ve got crystal clear evidence of you. You haven’t got a leg to stand on.”

Khalid says police interviewing him opened a folder and pointed to a DVD disc.

It was the last he ever saw of it.

Four police officers wrote witness statements claiming to have seen Khalid throwing the sandbag at officers.

Khalid said, “I was starting to get scared now. I was under a lot of pressure to plead guilty, but I was having none of it.”

Later investigation showed that the police officer’s injury, said to have been caused by a sandbag, did not happen during the protests.

Months passed and, despite repeated requests from Khalid and his legal team, police refused to reveal the evidence against him.

Khalid trawled the internet for video and photographs that could prove his innocence.

He attended a meeting of defendants where he met people with more footage.

Eventually he found clips that showed that it was not him that threw the sandbag.

In February this year, over one year since he was arrested, Khalid got a phone call.

“It was my solicitor to tell me that the police had dropped the case,” he said. “I was so relieved – the past year has been hell, and I’ve had this huge weight hanging over me.

“The stress has made my mum ill and I was prescribed anti-depressants.

“I couldn’t sleep, had panic attacks and couldn’t focus on getting a job.

“Before the arrest everything was going alright.

“Then bang, and I’m facing three to five years in prison for something I didn’t do.”

Khalid went on, “How many other people has this kind of thing happened to?”

He is now bringing a civil action against the police for their actions that day. “I’d never seen anything like the way the police behaved on that day.

“They were hitting out at women and children and manhandling all of us.

“I’m so glad I pled not guilty. I would advise other people to fight their cases and gather their own evidence.”


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News
Tue 23 Mar 2010, 19:30 GMT
Issue No. 2194
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