Organisers have at the 11th hour pulled the pin on controversial mass protest, citing fears of “police violence
Organisers have at the 11th hour pulled the pin on controversial mass protest, citing fears of “police violence".

Bridge protest postponed over ‘police brutality’ fears

Organisers of the Story Bridge protest have postponed the protest by one week, less than 24 hours before it was due to begin.

Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/Meanjin on Friday night announced via Facebook they would be rescheduling due to fears of how police may act.

 

The organiser said the language they used was " deeply concerning for anyone who cares about the right to peaceful protest in this state."

"They said they'd respond with 'full force' and they'll be 'exhausting all their resources to stop this protest going ahead' - these are dog whistles for police violence, repressive tactics like chemical weapons, and the riot squad moving in to assault peaceful community members."

The protest is planned for Saturday August 15 if the group's demand of a meeting with Australian Border Force isn't met.

 

Protesters and police had been gearing up for the showdown despite earlier last-minute negotiations to broker a peace deal.

Queensland Police vowed to come down hard on demonstrators but some activists remained undeterred until the 11th-hour backdown, saying they were willing to be arrested.

More than 3000 people signalled their interest in attending the Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/Meanjin organised protest.

But police, including specialist units, promised to also be there in large numbers and were prepared to make arrests to prevent the six-lane bridge from closing.

Refugee protest at Central Hotel and Apartments, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, July 19, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker
Refugee protest at Central Hotel and Apartments, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, July 19, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker

 

Queensland's Chief Health Officer also weighed in, pleading with people not to protest due to the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Demonstrations over the detainment of asylum seekers at a Kangaroo Point hotel have been taking place for months.

Saturday's escalation of the protest was set to include a mass sit-in on the iconic bridge in an act of "civil disobedience".

Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/Meanjin organiser Nathalie Farah said earlier they would have called off the protest if police and Australian Border Force agreed to meet to discuss the "free movement" of asylum seekers outside the hotel.

"I called (police) and said that we should try and get this meeting to happen, because basically it's probably going to turn into a riot because we're not going to be given the space to social distance," she said.

"We're definitely going to be turned around and then the police are going to come in and disperse us.

"So for the safety of our communities and for the safety of the protesters and the men inside we would rather not do a mass action in the middle of a pandemic."

Protesters on Friday had set a noon deadline before extending it for several hours, with it looking likely the protest was going to go ahead, until the late change.

A refugee protest at 721 Main Street, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, June 21, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker
A refugee protest at 721 Main Street, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, June 21, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker

 

Police agreed to the meeting however without Australian Border Force agreeing to join it the protest was planned to go ahead until the 9pm postponement.

Australian Border Force said it never received a formal request from protesters and extra security had been planned for the hotel.

Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski said the protest would be illegal and a very large police operation had been planned.

"Going onto the Story Bridge and blocking it is not a lawful protest," he said.

"They will not be permitted to block the Bradfield Highway, the Story Bridge, we will take action and if people commit offences they can expect to be arrested."

Specialist police the Public Safety Response Team, who dealt with Extinction Rebellion protesters, were expected to be present.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young warned of the potentially costly health implications of staging the protest, saying now was not the time to breach COVID-19 rules.

"Please do not go and protest this weekend, it is critical because it'll be a tough decision to make on Monday if we've seen large breaches of those chief health officer directions then I'll have to take that into consideration about the advice I give the community," she said.

"But please we can't yet relax."

Protest organiser Dane de Leon at refugee protest at Central Hotel and Apartments, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, July 19, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker
Protest organiser Dane de Leon at refugee protest at Central Hotel and Apartments, Kangaroo Point, Sunday, July 19, 2020 – Picture: Richard Walker

 

While discussing the original plans, Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/Meanjin organiser Dane de Leon said Saturday's planned action had been an escalation because previous methods hadn't worked.

"It's been seven years we've tried the policy way, the legal away, and whatever we're doing whatever it takes for the government to notice us we've been here 24/7 they still haven't got back to us," she said.

"So we thought the bridge would just be the loudest way for us (to get) them to action our demand.

"There are people who have pledged and said that they are willing to be arrested for these men because nothing we'll go through on Saturday can be as bad as 10 years in detention."

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington took umbrage at protesters planning to play a game of soccer on the middle of the bridge.

"It's simply a kick in the guts to every Queenslander doing the right thing," she said.
"It is a massive own goal and blatant hypocrisy for Labor to shut the border but allow this mass protest to proceed."

Police warned protesters could have been arrested for a "broad range" of offences including breaching COVID-19 directions, traffic rules and move on orders.

 

Originally published as Bridge protest postponed over 'police brutality' fears


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