IT IS not only six Asian men who are on trial at Preston Crown Court following last year's disturbances in Burnley. At stake also is the principle of when people have the right to defend themselves.
Tariq Saddique, married with two children aged four and two, is one of the six Asian men charged after racists rampaged through Burnley. He told the court last week, 'All we were doing was making sure everyone was safe and no one was being attacked.' The charges against the six include violent disorder. If found guilty they face years in jail.
Asians in Oldham and Bradford charged after similar disturbances following activity by the Nazi National Front and BNP have received sentences of up to eight and a half years. The sentences have outraged people across Britain, black and white. Preston court has heard that racists, inspired by the National Front and British National Party, terrorised Asian people on the weekend of 22-24 June last year. Their attacks culminated in firebombing Asian homes and property on the Sunday night.
Tariq Saddique gave a powerful testimony in court of the fear of racist attack that drove Asian people to defend themselves: 'I was brought up in Burnley. My parents live there and have a greengrocer's shop. My two brothers and two sisters, all my family, live there. My auntie, who is a diabetic, and my uncle live in the Daneshouse area in Colne Road next to the Lee Street mosque. There was a lot of tension before Sunday. The BNP were standing in the council elections. Everybody was a bit scared. We heard white people, National Front, intended to march down Colne Road. My dad, a taxi driver, told me about an attack on an Asian driver who had been hit with a hammer by the National Front. We believed at the time he had died. People are used to being sworn at, but not someone getting attacked. We were scared the march would come through the area and, knowing what these people are like, they would attack us.'
Tariq joined others who shared his fears. He travelled to Burnley with local Labour councillor Paul Moore, where they met up with Shahid Malik, a member of Labour's national executive committee. 'I went to see my auntie, who is in her seventies, and was upset and nervous,' Tariq said in court. 'I told her, 'Everybody's round you, there's nothing to worry about'.'
Tariq explained what happened when around 150 Asian people who had gathered near by went to Colne Road where the racists were. He was walking with an imam who feared his mosque was under threat. The Asians saw a line of ten officers between them and a gang of white men. 'The racists were throwing bottles and shouting abuse at the Asians,' said Tariq. The officers were really worried because there were not many of them. We said, 'We just want to protect our community. We don't want to let the racists in here'.'
After discussion with the police the group of Asians agreed to move away. Tariq described how some of them went on to other streets after constant sightings throughout the day of racists in the area and reports of attacks on Asian people.
Ian Macdonald QC, who is representing Tariq Saddique, said: 'The reason why they answered a hue and cry in the area was because people like them, Asians, were the targets of white violence. They acted to save others from that violence. Some they helped were Asian, some were white. This case is about self defence, defending members of the family and property.'
He added, 'There is no dispute that there were drunken, violent men intent on violence against Asians, that the vanguard marched down to Daneshouse looking for trouble. What they had in mind was what they did later to Asians and Asian property. That was the fear that motivated the defendants. There was a genuine attempt to protect their area from the kind of attack that took place further into Burnley where they were not so protected. They were confronted by the possibility of racist men marching in and doing the kind of thing that happened on that night where they broke into a house, pulled out the TV set and tried to set fire to the house. Self defence is a right we all have from time immemorial. It was indicated in a number of police officers' evidence that they were overstretched. They simply weren't able to provide the kind of protection we all expect to have. The community felt, believed, the police were not able to defend them adequately from the threat directed against one group in Burnley, and one group only - Asians.'
Justice is all we demand
TARIQ Saddique's sister Shanaz spoke to Socialist Worker about the impact of the trial on her family: 'IT IS quite devastating. Tariq has two young children. He is very close to them and he has a very good job. He has been in tears saying, 'What will happen to my children?' We say, 'Whatever happens we are not ashamed of you. The family will stand by you and we are proud of you.'
We know in our hearts he has done nothing wrong. He defended his community. That is what makes this harder. He has been put on trial for something he did not do. I have lived in Burnley for 14 years in a mainly white area. We have never had problems before. It was only when the BNP stood for the elections that things started to happen.
You could see the tension in the community. They put leaflets through our doors saying vote BNP. Our white neighbours were shocked. They came round and apologised for the leaflets, saying they hoped we were not offended.
I suddenly felt I didn't want my two children to go to school on their own. This was two to three weeks before the weekend when all the disorder happened. That weekend was horrific. It was so frightening. My father, a taxi driver, came home as all the ranks had been shut down after the attack on the Asian taxi driver. We were asking for help from the police. They were totally outnumbered. People were saying, 'The BNP are here and want to attack us.' It spread like wildfire.
It wasn't just the Asian community - white people were scared as well. The area is mixed. There are, for example, white women married to Asian men. Tariq's wife is mixed race. We had to defend ourselves. We were made to feel that we were alien and could be attacked for no reason.
I have taken women to join men down at the court in Preston. The women have been there, some in veils, carrying placards saying 'Justice for our youth'. That is what we are demanding.'
'It's a mixed area... there is no trouble'
THE PROSECUTION is trying to persuade the all white jury and the judge, Justice Boulton, that the Asian men were 'out of control' and were 'rampaging round'. Mr Pickup, the prosecutor, accused Tariq Saddique of being part of a group of Asians who were 'patrolling the streets looking for white lads to have a fight with'.
He said, 'If there had been white lads standing around, there would have been a fight. How do you define these racists?' Tariq replied, 'They are the ones who shout and swear at you.' He said, 'We didn't want a fight, we just didn't want these people in our area.' Pickup claimed Tariq had 'exaggerated the nature of the threat and tension'. Tariq explained that it was racists, not white people generally, who were the threat.
'It's a mixed area, there are English and white people,' he said. 'I have lived with these people for years. I know the locals in the pubs and there is no trouble. We were there to protect the community from what I now know happened later.'
That whole community is now following the cases at Preston Crown Court. They know they will all suffer if the men are convicted. The case continues, with a verdict expected next week.
Back these campaigns
THERE IS a defence campaign for the six men appearing in court, and for others who face trial. There is also a campaign to reduce the sentences handed out in Bradford.
Phone the Burnley campaign on 07970 968 237 or 07930 869 895 and the Bradford campaign on 07966 215 696.