Socialist Worker

Facing prison for self defence

Issue No. 1818

THE RIGHT of Asians to defend themselves against racists is currently on trial in Preston, Lancashire. The six Asian defendants are the first to go on trial over the riots in Burnley in June of last year. They live in a town where three British National Party (BNP) members became councillors after the elections earlier this year.

The Asian men argue they had to defend their homes from the organised racists who tore through the area on the weekend of 22-24 June 2001. All six are pleading not guilty to charges of violent disorder and carrying offensive weapons. The prosecution want the all-white jury to rule that the defendants were not justified in any action they are alleged to have taken.

But an observer at the trial told Socialist Worker, 'The prosecution admit there was a real, serious danger of violence from a large group of organised and determined racists. They showed a video from Sunday 24 June in court last week of groups of white men attacking Asians. Remember this comes on top of an Asian cab driver being beaten unconscious on the Friday night. His attackers were arrested and then given bail the next day. This video of the events on Sunday is very powerful. It comes from footage on CCTV cameras, police helicopters and police video camera crews. It shows a group of white men gathered round a pub getting drunk, becoming incredibly violent, and making Nazi salutes.

'One of them pledges loyalty to the National Front. They are then escorted down the road past Asian areas. They attack groups of isolated Asians. They are seen to be out of control. They try to attack a mosque and are prevented by police. A second, much larger, group comes into the area and starts to gather. The police with greater forces have difficulty containing them. The bigger group is 50 strong. Some of the white gang go on the rampage through the town centre. They have an almighty battle with the police. '

'In the Burnley Wood area a gang of white men are shown carrying out a pogrom against Asians. The video shows them ransacking Asian houses and businesses. They go into an Asian family's home, come out with a television and then set fire to the place. They break in the doors of shops and set fire to them. In one shop there is an Asian family living upstairs. The white gang don't get stopped all night.'

The six Asian men are not accused of doing anything to the police. The observer at the trial explains that at one point 'there are 50 to 100 Asians of all ages shown on the video barring the group of whites from their community. Some are not even teenagers and have picked up the nearest thing they can find to defend themselves - the cricket stumps from the game they have just been playing. The Asians do not attack. They confront the group and say, 'We will not let you go past.' The police hold a discussion with the older Asian lads saying they have the situation under control. The Asians then disperse into the area.'

The lawyers for the six defendants are arguing that the police did not have the situation under control that night, as the police and prosecution claim they did. The defendants' lawyers showed in court that senior police officers did not know how many police they had on that night. Three senior officers gave figures ranging from 21 police constables to 75-80 constables.

The trial comes at the same time as home secretary David Blunkett has made repeated bitter comments about Asians living in Britain. Last weekend he presumed to tell Asian families what they should say in their homes, demanding that they speak English. His comments are outrageous. The fact that up to one million people in Britain are bilingual in some of the world's great languages like Chinese, Hindi, Bengali and Spanish should be celebrated. His criticisms of Asians have been eagerly taken up by the right wing press and the Nazi BNP, who seize any opportunity to have attention focused away from their activities.

In Bradford young Asian men have received sentences of up to eight and a half years for defending their communities against Nazi-inspired gangs. Last week two 21 year old Asian men received sentences of four and a half years and three years for fighting back against similar attacks in Oldham last summer. At the trial in Preston the six Asian defendants are arguing that fighting against racism is not a crime.

Solidarity with the accused

Local people in Burnley have set up a campaign in support of all the young Asian men who have been charged in relation to last June's events. They have organised a solidarity petition. Already in the Duke Bar area some 1,800 people out of around 4,000 people who live there have signed it in just two weeks.

The petition reads, 'We live and work in Duke Bar area. The young men acted in defence of the community, and we entirely support their actions. The police were outnumbered and unable to protect the area. Our lives were at risk. The community stands shoulder to shoulder with the young people.' All the major community organisations in the borough have also shown their support and signed it.

Phone the Burnley campaign on 07930 869 895. For information on the campaign for those charged in Bradford phone 07966 215 696.

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Sat 21 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1818
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