Socialist Worker

Court hears of anger over Gaza

by Siân Ruddick
Issue No. 2199

Martin Askew, who was arrested at the London protests against the Israeli invasion of Gaza, was found guilty on two counts of violent disorder on Tuesday. He will be sentenced on 28 May.

Martin is one of 119 people arrested at and after the demonstrations in December 2008 and January 2009.

In his evidence to the court last week, Martin put the demonstration in political context. He explained how he had protested outside the Israeli embassy in London day after day from

28 December 2008, horrified by the war crimes being inflicted on the Palestinian people.

He described the assault as “a horrific event in my personal life—witnessing the siege on television of women and children trapped in the enclave.

“On the 28th it was an amazing event, a cross section of British society—British, Muslim, Jewish. It was a fantastic event, I was so proud that other people felt as I felt.

“I thought I was going to be the only one there, but there were thousands of people.”

He told the jury, “We were sending a message to our government to make a stance at least.”

He went on, “Gordon Brown was silent, politicians were silent. What about international law? The Geneva convention was being broken. Israel has weapons of mass destruction and is running an apartheid state.

“From 3 January onwards the siege had intensified—Israel had started bombing UN buildings, hospitals and places of worship. Children were being mutilated while the world watched. The British government was appeasing, you could say colluding, with Israel.”

Film-maker Guy Ritchie sent a character reference for Martin, who is a friend and scriptwriter, to the court last week.

Incident

Martin was outside the Israeli embassy on 3 January when a march from Trafalgar Square arrived.

Referring to the Hyde Park underpass, when police trapped demonstrators he said, “The atmosphere was different, there was an incident in the tunnel, and lots of protesters were trapped. When they got there [to the embassy] the police had made a pen. People were kettled in.”

Responding to police footage Martin said, “I got on barriers and shouted and screamed but I had no intention to create violence. No police were hurt by Mr Martin Askew.”

Police evidence gatherers collected the footage shown in court. The teams consist of two officers with dictaphones describing what they see, often commenting on individuals, and a photographer.

These teams are also in frequent communication with Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and take photos on their behalf.

It is this evidence, as well as extensive videos, that the police have used to build their case. Police witnesses were gently talked through their statements by Julia Forewalker for the prosecution.

On the second day of the trial, the prosecution called police sergeant Stuart Parsons. Parsons was on duty on 3 January as an evidence gatherer. His notes were compiled on 23 January and he told the court that his memory was “refreshed by audio and video footage from the day”.

Parsons told the court, “[Martin Askew] came up with two objects, one in each hand. They were pieces of wood. He threw both, right handed at us.” Forewalker asked, “How far away were you at this point?” Parsons replied, “18 to 20 feet”.

In cross-examination, Lauren Soertsz, representing the defence, said, “You are wrong. He didn’t throw anything.” Parsons replied, “He did.”

But at the end of Friday, the prosecution had to address the court and say, “Stuart Parsons did not record that [Askew] had thrown two sticks as stated in his submission.” The “correction” took a fraction of the time that the original evidence did in court.

Martin was injured after he was jabbed in the head by the end of a police shield. His nose was broken and he had to have 70 stitches in his head.

Martin’s political defence in court was a breath of fresh air, putting the demonstrations in a context that the authorities are desperate to ignore.


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Tue 27 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2199
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