Over 150 people met in Rotherham on Saturday to launch a defence campaign for 12 Asian men who face jail following an anti-fascist protest.
Police arrested the men after a protest against fascist group Britain First in the South Yorkshire town on 5 September last year.
Some 400 people had joined the anti-racist protest – a breakthrough following 13 previous fascist protests. Police marched the protest past a pub, which local people say is well known as a haunt of racists.
Protesters defended themselves against racist abuse – and now 12 Asian men face serious charges, including violent disorder. They are due to stand trial in October.
Akash was one of those at Saturday’s meeting. He told Socialist Worker, “People were trying to protect younger people. The pub is a hotspot for racists. Why did the police send us that way? Our main aim was to protest peacefully.”
Waleed, a college student in Rotherham, told Socialist Worker, “We want the charges dropped. We are one community and we should be standing up for the men.”
Banners included Sheffield Trades Council, Sheffield NUT, British Muslim Youth and Unite Against Fascism.
Suresh Grover from The Monitoring Group told the meeting, “The trial in October will have an impact across the country. We have the right to self defence and the right to protest.
“If we lose, 12 people’s liberties will be lost for daring to come out onto the streets. We must win.”
Rotherham Labour councillor Taiba Yasseen told the meeting that for 13 marches, many Asian people didn’t come out to oppose the fascists. But after the murder of Mushin Ahmed people felt “enough is enough”.
“The police approach for the 14th march was different,” she added. “They were provoking the crowd. Police created an environment for this outcome.”
Lawyer Matt Foot pointed out that fighting charges of violent disorder can succeed in fewer prison sentences.
Lawyer Imran Khan will represent the defendants along with Michael Mansfield QC. Imran Khan referred to the Bradford riots of 2001, which resulted in 200 jail sentences totalling 604 years.
“It decimated families across Bradford,” he said. “But we fought a campaign that involved the whole of Bradford. We talked about self-defence and we reduced those sentences.”
Muhbeen Hussain from British Muslim Youth said ordinary people “collectively made a difference” in a number of struggles.
Weyman Bennett from Unite Against Fascism said it was right to come out to oppose the fascists, and that protest had pushed back the fascist British National Party. He said, “This is going to be a tremendous fight. British justice is not fair.
“But an injustice to one is an injustice to all. We have to have solidarity.”