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Gaza Protests: Harsh Sentences Likely To Deter Lawful Protest

Hanan Chehata | 18.02.2010 22:52 | Anti-militarism | Palestine | Repression | World

Harsh sentences delivered
On Friday morning last week the waiting room inside Isleworth Crown Court started to fill with some of the protesters who had taken part in the London-Gaza protests in January last year. They were there to be sentenced for their role in those protests. The defendants had all pleaded guilty to charges of violent disorder, some because of pressure from their lawyers, others as part of a plea bargain and in fear of a heavier sentence if they stuck to their original "not guilty" pleas. Also present were family members and friends who had come to lend their moral support. The atmosphere was one of tense, nervous anticipation. Most of the defendants had been told that they could expect to be sentenced to community service, which is what the author of the pre-sentence reports had recommended. Others expected a custodial sentence but, in light of their early "guilty" plea and other mitigating factors in their favour, a relatively short one.

outside the embassy
outside the embassy

However, the mood changed abruptly once the first sentence was read out and the young man in the dock was led away mutely to serve two years in a young offenders' institution, while his family filed out of the court room in shock. As people in the waiting room crowded around trying to comfort the near-hysterical sister of the young man just sentenced, panic, fear and tears were evident among several of the others waiting for the court's judgement.

Mitigating factors
That young man's offence had been caught on CCTV: he had thrown a few sticks, struck a police horse twice and entered a branch of Starbucks after it had already been looted by others looking for things to throw during the demonstration. Despite his age at the time of the protests (19) and his of previously good character; the fact that he had entered a timely "guilty" plea (and was therefore entitled to full credit and a reduction in his sentence); was assessed to be a low risk in terms of re-offending and a low risk to the public; had shown remorse for his acts; he was a committed student in his second year of a three year course; and he cooperated fully with the police, it didn't seem to matter when it came to sentencing.

The context of the protest
Moreover, it was brought to the court's attention that the defendant was Palestinian and only came to Britain in 1990. He was, therefore, very naturally deeply affected by the war crimes that Israel was perpetrating in his homeland at the time of the demonstration he attended. He was there because the governments of the world were doing nothing to stop the Israeli onslaught. However, at no point in any of the cases before the court did the context of the protests get a mention. The prosecution at one point simply said that the protest was "linked to unhappiness with the conflict in Gaza", a gross under-representation of the situation. The issue of context is vital as it goes to the very heart of the matter. The court was not dealing with a bunch of hooligans but a moral protest for a cause which had motivated over a hundred thousand people in Britain alone to make a stand.

In the case of another defendant who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment last Friday, he attended the protest just days after two of his cousins had been murdered by Israelis in Palestine. It may be entirely the fault of his legal defence not to have raised this in terms of the effect it would have inevitably had on his mental state. Nevertheless, the judge was aware of the facts and while he said he that he took it into account, the sentence he passed suggests otherwise.

Police misconduct during the riots.
Another issue pushed to one side by the court was the behaviour of the police throughout the protest. The young man mentioned above now serving 2 years in a young offender's institute, for example, said that the catalyst for his offence was being hit on the shoulder by a police baton. He also suggested that heavy-handedness by the police towards some women during the protest prompted many of men to react violently. The judge discounted this entirely, saying that of the 33 official complaints made against the police none were upheld. He failed to mention, however, that the complainants are now bringing civil actions against the Metropolitan Police because they are dissatisfied with the outcome of their complaints.

The judge also insisted that he had reviewed the police CCTV evidence as well as footage from SKY TV and had seen no evidence of police manhandling the women or of any police misconduct. Again, the defence team should have drawn to his attention a report such as that prepared by the Islamic Human Rights Commission which cites many sources and eyewitnesses supporting the defendants' claims. Even a quick Google search would have given the defence some footage showing police malpractice.

Harsh sentences intended to deter violent disorder or to deter protesters altogether?
Fears that the sentences would be of a severity sufficient to deter others rather than just punish the offenders - as mentioned by MEMO in a recent article were confirmed when the judge said as much. He made it very clear that the harsh sentences were being issued, in part, to make an example of the protesters before him and to send a clear message that violent disorder in such a context was not to be tolerated. In passing his judgement, the judge made it abundantly clear that "those who take part do so at their peril." He said that the public is entitled to look to the law for protection and that the number of people involved in the protest and the level of violence were aggravating factors. He admitted that the right to demonstrate is a hallmark of a strong democracy but said that what happened on that day went far beyond being lawful. Part of the reasoning he gave in passing his judgments was that the defendants had been in the "middle" of the crowd when violence broke out, or at the "front", implying that their presence alone was enough to warrant punishment.

The question is, though, who was he trying to deter? As he said himself, the protesters before him all matched a similar profile. They were young men (primarily between the ages of 18-22) most of whom are of "previously good character", they did well educationally and had bright prospects for the future. Many did volunteer work and other useful social activities in their free time. The judge admitted in his summing-up of each of the cases that MEMO sat through that none of the young men had set out deliberately to cause any trouble and he accepted that none of the misconduct had been premeditated. He made reference to the fact that no weapons had been brought from home and that no disguises, such as balaclavas, had been worn and that essentially they had all just got caught up in the events of the day. He made the point that there seemed to be a type of "mass-hysteria" afflicting the crowd and that the protesters simply got caught up in the events

In which case, who is he trying to deter by these sentences and what is he deterring them from? If he is trying to deter similar offenders, that means he is trying to deter other young men of good character and good educational and behavioural backgrounds. But what is he deterring them from? Is he trying to deter them from committing acts of violent disorder? Logic dictates that you cannot deter someone from a non-premeditated, spur of the moment act as committed by these young men and as admitted by the judge. That leaves us to conclude that part of the intention is to deter people from protesting altogether, which would be a travesty of justice in and of itself.

When Israel acts the way it did in December 2008-January 2009 and the evidence of its war crimes is transmitted into every household and no one with any power does anything to stop the Zionist state, it is vital that brave individuals such as those who came out in their hundreds of thousands to protest, feel safe enough to do so. It is important that protests are held in accordance with the law and in a peaceful, safe and lawful manner. Of that there is no disagreement. But when things go wrong it is also vital that the police and the courts take into account the context in its entirety. Instead of trying to deter people from protesting at all, they should work together to make sure that future protests do not degenerate into violence; that requires some modification of police behaviour and tactics as much as anything else. Lawful protest is a hallmark of our democracy and must be catered for in a safe environment. Protesters and police officers, please note.

The sentences passed on Friday were: one person for 12 months, three people for 18 months, two for 24 months and one person for 30 months.

Hanan Chehata
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Press release: Concerns over possible continued harsh sentencing of Gaza de

18.02.2010 23:05

Press release by the Islamic Human Rights Commission:

UK – Concerns over possible continued harsh sentencing of Gaza demonstrators

18 February 2010

More to be sentenced on Friday 19 February

IHRC is deeply concerned with the continued harsh sentencing administered against the London Gaza demonstrators. IHRC fears that the defendants at the latest sentencing hearing on 19 February may face equally harsh sentences.

Ten demonstrators have already been sentenced to between 1 to 3 years. At the time of the demonstrations, two of those sentenced on 12 February were 16. One of them is a Palestinian who lost two cousins murdered by Israeli security forces days before the demonstration. The defendants had no prior convictions.

IHRC is concerned the sentencing fails to take into account that grave police mismanagement and abuse of police powers contributed to the tense situation at the demonstrations. Judge Denniss called the police response on the demonstrations "measured". However, IHRC in its report on the Gaza demonstration has documented evidence which shows that far from being measured, the police tactics were brutal and resulted in aggravating tensions.[1]

IHRC Chair Massoud Shadjareh said:

"We are concerned that such heavy sentencing, the subsequent confiscation of passports and other intimidatory measures are an attempt to deter protesting, in particular in support of Palestine, and by Muslims. The IHRC report on policing clearly documents the culpability of the police in the demonstrations which is, sadly, not at all reflected in the proceedings."

Joanna Gilmore, Researcher in the School of Law at the University of Manchester, said:

"The police complaints system has yet again failed to hold the police to account for their behaviour. Despite the severity of the complaints and the nature of the injuries suffered by protesters, the IPCC has refused to investigate any of the complaints, in the distorted belief that the Metropolitan Police Service can do a good enough job of investigating itself. It is no surprise, then, that no police officer has faced charges, or even disciplinary action, as a result of their behaviour at these demonstrations. In contrast, scores of young Muslims have been subjected to dawn raids, gruelling court processes and lengthy prison sentences for their part in the protests. It is high time that these contradictions are exposed."

For more information please contact the Press Office on (+44) 20 8904 4222 or (+44)7958522196, email: Interviews available.

Notes to editors:

[1] POLICING, PROTEST AND CONFLICT: A REPORT INTO THE POLICING OF THE LONDON GAZA DEMONSTRATIONS IN 2008 – 2009 by Adam Majeed, 96 pages, ISBN 978-1-903718-37-7, £7, spiral bound, publication date 28 January 2010.

The report can be downloaded for free from:[ENDS]

Islamic Human Rights Commission
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Violent Disorder - Legal Precedent - R v Chapman

18.02.2010 23:46

R v Chapman is a case from 2002 which is being quoted in sentencing in both G20 and Gaza cases coming up at Isleworth. If you know anyone who may be facing violent disorder charges it is well worth them having a read as it gives a clear message on how little you have to do to be guilty of the offence and the minimal discounts available for a guilty plea.

# LORD JUSTICE JUDGE: Andrew Chapman is now aged 20. He is a young man without previous convictions who, on 2nd October 2001 at the Bradford Magistrates Court, pleaded guilty to an offence of violent disorder. The Justices committed him to the Crown Court for sentence. On 5th November in the Crown Court at Bradford the appellant was sentenced to three years' detention in a young offender institution by His Honour Judge Scott.

# To understand the sentence imposed in this case we must put the offence into context. On 7th and 8th July 2001 massive violence erupted in Bradford City Centre. A full-scale riot lasted something like 12 hours. Two days later more violence, generated at least in part by the earlier violence, broke out in the Ravenscliffe Estate, some two miles or so from the City Centre. This outbreak was less intense in its violent manifestations and less sustained than the first riot and lasted about four hours.

# The television screens were filled with alarming images of the first riot but most of us were distant observers. For those innocently present at either scene going about their lawful business, for those who became accidentally involved in the incident, for those targeted directly or indirectly by the violence, or whose homes were in its vicinity, and for the police performing their duty to maintain public order, these were horrifying incidents.

# Under the leadership of the resident judge at Bradford, His Honour Judge Gullick, the judiciary in the Crown Court resolved that so far as it lay within their powers and subject always to individual and specific mitigation available to any defendant, the sentences arising from or connected with this violence should send out a clear and unambiguous message, the object of which was to discourage and prevent any repetition of those violent scenes: the consequences of involvement in this kind of criminal behaviour would be severe.

# In the first case arriving in the Crown Court arising from the first disturbance, on 23rd November 2001, Judge Gullick made the following observations in public on behalf of himself and his judicial colleagues:

"Any participation whatsoever of whatever duration in an unlawful and riotous assembly of that type, irrespective of its precise form, derives its gravity from becoming one of those who by sheer weight of numbers pursued a common and unlawful purpose.

On the one hand, I must have regard to the total picture as it has been presented to me and on the other I must pay heed, as I have done, to the specific acts of an individual such as yourself. However, it must be made crystal clear to everyone that...each individual who takes an active part by deed or by encouragement is guilty of an extremely grave offence simply by being in a public place and being engaged in a crime against the peace. While it is plain that there were many, many people on the street, a goodly number of whom for a whole variety of reasons may never be prosecuted, may never be called answer for the acts which they perpetrated and thus would escape punishment, nevertheless in my judgment it is neither wrong in principle nor a matter which should affect sentence of those who have been prosecuted that the appropriate sentence should be given to those that are before the court. Those who choose to take part in activities of this type must understand th! at they do so at their peril. It must be made equally clear, both to those who are apprehended and to those who might be tempted to behave in this way in the future, that the court will have no hesitation in marking the seriousness of what has occurred and it will act in such a way in the present case as will, I hope, send out a clear and unambiguous message as to the consequences to the individual. It is a message which I trust will deter others from engaging in this type of behaviour in the future."

He went on:

"The people of this city are all entitled to look to the law for protection and to the courts to punish those who behaved so violently and viciously. It would be wholly unreal therefore for me to have regard to the specific acts which you committed as if they had been committed in isolation. In my judgment it would be a wholly wrong approach to take the acts of any individual participant in isolation. Those acts were not committed in isolation and, as I have already indicated, it is that very fact which constitutes the gravity of this offence. What the court has to pay regard to is the level and nature of the violence used, the scale of the riot, the extent to which it is premeditated, the number of persons engaged in its execution and finally, in the context of the overall picture, the specific acts of the individual defendant."

In that case the judge was dealing with a defendant who had been involved in the first and most serious offence of riot. Nevertheless, the observations made by the judge apply equally to the second offence. We wholeheartedly and unhesitatingly endorse them, and adopt them as our own. They reflect the appropriate judicial response to sustained and violent public disturbances. In truth they reflect the fact that the maintenance of the peace of the community, and the protection of the public and the police doing their duty, is an imperative.
# The sentence now under consideration must be seen in this context. This is not the case of a young man who participated in the first and worst outbreak of public disorder, but one who took part in the second copycat outbreak which in the end had less broad impact than the first. That distinction has been reflected in the charges which the Crown Prosecution Service has brought. In relation to the first incidents there have been many charges of riot for which the maximum sentence is 10 years' imprisonment. For the second incident the charges have largely, if not wholly, been limited to violent disorder for which the maximum sentence is five years' imprisonment. Nevertheless, however it is put, although the second incident was less serious than the first riot, it was never less than serious. The police had to attend in numbers, wearing full riot gear to contain and control the situation. Quite how long they might have been at risk was not known to them when they started c! arrying out their duties. A very large number of youths estimated variously at between 75 and 100, many wearing masks or hats to hide their faces, armed with bats and staves and stones, attacked the police by throwing stones at them. Property was damaged, although much less than in the first riot. A car was set on fire: again, an incident which on its own was much less significant than the incidents of damage on the first occasion. Additionally, at one stage a resident of the area of Asian origin was targeted just because of his racial origin.

# The appellant pleaded guilty and the judge's attention was drawn to a sentencing decision in another case passed by His Honour Judge Gullick ( R v Jones). The basis of the plea was that the appellant had been involved for about 15 minutes. His case was that he had spent much of the evening with friends and had not been present at the outset. His account was that he had been walking home when he passed the disturbance and recognised some people that he knew who were participating in it, and so he became actively involved. Video footage taken by the police showed the appellant throwing stones. He did not however just pick up a stone which happened to be in front of him and hurl it at the police. A few minutes later he was seen to go to a wheelie bin in which stones had already been collected by other youths, and he re-armed himself in order to get more stones to throw in the direction of the police.

# When the judge's attention was drawn to Judge Gullick's decision in Jones, he indicated to counsel that he would pass sentence on the defendant as he thought appropriate, but he would discuss the case with Judge Gullick, and having discussed it, if he felt that the sentence imposed on this defendant was inappropriate then he would bring the case back to court and reduce the sentence. He promised that he would not increase it.

# He heard the mitigation. The mitigation has been repeated before us in a careful argument by Mr Hendron on the appellant's behalf. What it comes to is that this is a young man of good character, who has pleaded guilty and whose involvement, according to the mitigation, was not prolonged. The argument on appeal then proceeds to ask us to consider Judge Gullick' decision in Jones, just as Judge Scott was asked to consider it. What seems clear that the judge would undoubtedly have done what he promised to do, which was to discuss the sentencing decision in Jones with Judge Gullick, and from that it seems to us that the fact that he chose not to ask this appellant to return to court for re-sentencing purposes means that Jones must have had some significant personal mitigation which is not available to the appellant.

# In the end, however, the question is whether the sentence for this young man's participation in this scene of violent disorder was manifestly excessive, having regard to the general judicial response that deterrent sentences should be passed to make it absolutely clear that behaviour of this kind and involvement in it was intolerable. The judge said to the appellant:

"You take responsibility for your own actions but you must understand that by doing that you encourage others either to join in or to carry on doing what you are doing and that is why violent disorder is a serious offence."

He reflected on the maximum sentence in the case; he took account of the credit due to the appellant for his plea and for the fact that he had no previous convictions, and made allowance for the further fact that in relation to his own personal participation he was not identified as a ringleader.
# In our judgment the sentencing decision in this case fell within the appropriate range of judicial sentencing decisions. Accordingly, the appeal must be dismissed.

legal observer

solidarity demo

19.02.2010 00:04

possibly coinciding with the next court case or maybe just outside the israeli embassy?


ah come on,

19.02.2010 00:55

smashing up a starbucks window, 'tis traditional.

Plus fucking useful since it was the only access to a toilet a couple of thousand people had (untill police reinforcements pushed back past it).

I've never seen any confired reports of 'looting'. Maybe someone took a muffin or something.

Its also worth baring in mind the order of the events on the day... i'm not saying "the police started it" is an excuse, but it does explain why emotions were running so high .

Smashing a window is not violence, hitting people in the back with a baton, blowing up a skool, shooting at civilians, crushing young and elderly alike against a fence and pushing them over... these things are violence.


The police started this.

19.02.2010 01:23

Anyone who was present at the demos know they were a result of the way that the police handeled the events, it was nothing short of intimidation and harassment. This kind of behaviour from authorities in an already emotionally charged environment is bound to result in people fighting back.

So what the fuck do these sentences hope to achieve? If you want to protect the public sentence the fucker that killed Ian. Senstence the various thugs in the TSG. Sentence Tony Blair. Sentence the rich thieves running the banks and sentence the fucking profiteers of the arms trade.

I can think of millions of people who society needs protection from, and those that stand on trial for this are by no means any of them.

Pissed off!

examples to follow

19.02.2010 11:08

Personally i think that all who attended the demos in support of the people of Gaza, suffering the holocaust launched upon them by the israelis, should be applauded. After 10 years of marching from A to and NOTHING ever coming of it, the anger could no longer be represeed, they could not make us walk in an orderly fashion, follow their police approved routes, be the lawfull dissent that is quickly forgotten. The left needs to learn from these passionate individuals and need to rally to their support.

Hopefully people will learn quickly the tactics of the pigs and in future mask up properly, wear unidentifyable clothing, work together, hit 'em and get out of there. The criminal injustice system will try to make examples of them through the harsh sentences being imposed on them. They are examples - examples that should be followed and repeated. The police know that there will be more. it is inevitable. they try to crush the embryos of what they fear. it is our job to stop them. Fuck the police.


Silence in Court

19.02.2010 11:49

Sounds like the defence lawyers involved were not up to the job. It's always worth considering conducting your own defence, it's easier than you might think.

It is also very empowering to call your own witnesses and question the police witnesses (who are often lying), and it can tease out the exact details of what was happening if a series of defendants are able to set the context, and ask questions, one after the other, of the police and other witnesses. Also as the reporter says, you can find much material on the internet which can help your defence which 'professional' lawyers are not bothered to turn up if they decide it is an 'open and shut' case. For most lawyers this is just another working day in court, and they have nothing to lose by losing the case.

Anyone in a similar situation in the future should remember this and plead 'Not Guilty', as this case shows that pleading Guilty has no bearing on the draconian sentences handed out.

I'm not saying the judgy wouldn't have imposed severe sentences, but when it can be shown that he ignored much evidence can be good grounds for appeal , and can help build a public campaign against the harshness of the sentences, and show the true extent of the 'justice' system when the etablishment decides to 'make an example' of people regardless of the facts.

Self Defence

Anyone know where they are being sent to?

19.02.2010 14:58

Does anyone know where they are being held or "serving their sentence" as it were? I want to send a letter of solidarity.


where they will be

19.02.2010 19:48

Almost certainly Feltham Young Offenders Institute in Middx for all those under 21 - which is nearly all of them.

Anyone older could be be in any London prison in the first instance and further afield once they've been processed.

BTW It's Isleworth Crown Court, not Islington.

prisoners fightback

Does anyone know their lawyers?

19.02.2010 21:17

I had a similar experience recently and what I get from that case is that the lawyers didnt do their job properly. Do we know the law firms?

Cops - lawyers - judges are just pigs


judge bias affect on lawyers

20.02.2010 08:15

From the Schnews report

"the judge indicated his participation in the state’s project when he told all the defendants at the plea hearings that he had viewed all the evidence from police witnesses and independent (!) footage from Sky News and on that basis it would be best that they pleaded guilty - even before waiting to hear their defence!"

This perhaps explains why the defence lawyers were so shit. They were cowed by the judge who is in charge of the court, in effect, their boss for the day.

The judge had made his mind up before hearing the evidence, and the 'professional' lawyers will not do or say anything which annoys him if they value their future in the law. Lawyers study for years to become lawyers and few will jeapordise their careers by disagreeing with someone they one day hope to be!

Shows just how crap the 'justice' system is.

Self Defence

lawyers, schmawyers

20.02.2010 20:53

Lawyers are only as good as the movement or defence campaign that is pushing them. In this case there has been none. That, not the obvious deference of 'officers of the court' to the court (which goes without saying) is the problem. Of course, if a judge says 'I will find you guilty and sentence you to more unless you plead guilty', the solicitor or barrister will advise you to plead. Their job is to get you the best deal on offer. Without an alternative being presented, this is their only option.

Radical lawyers are made by radical movements. They don't just pop out of nowhere. The shame here should not be heaped on the lawyers themselved but on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which organised the protests against the atrocities in Gaza and then abandoned those who were arrested on them.

prisoners fightback

Prisoner details

21.02.2010 18:27

One of those who were sentenced (for throwing one single empty bottle) is Mosab Al-Ani, please send messages of solidarity to him, the contact details are as follows:

Mosab Al- Ani
Prison number GX - 7243
H.M.P. Woodworm Scrubs
P.O. Box 757 DuCane Road
London, W12 OAE

Make sure when you do send messages of solidarity to send the letter by special delivery made payable to 'governor'. Thanks for all your support



21.02.2010 21:29

Sorry that was a typo, its HMP Wormwood Scrubs not Woodworm



22.02.2010 22:57

If you send a message of solidarity, letter or card, just write directly to the prisoner. Put the details given (name, prison number, address on the envelope). Put a return address on the back as 'anonymous mail' is often refused.

If you want to send money, you need to write the cheque or postal order to The Governor but you can put it in the envelope with the letter you are sending in. You don't need to write to the governor. So your special/recorded delivery should still be addressed to the prisoner. Then what SHOULD happen is that the envelope will be signed for by prison staff but they will take it to him, open it in front of him and take the cash away to pay into his account but he will have seen that you sent it so it shouldn't go astray. That is the theory anyway.

If you want to look up the whole rules and regs on this it is mainly set out here in Prison Service Order 4411

prisoners fightback

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