Sunday March 27 2005 10:00am WST
For Immediate Release
"Behaviour of the South Australian State Police towards the very, very clearly non-violent Baxter protesters, and the blatant attempts at media spin by the SA Police Media liaison unit amount to a scandal, and an indication that police is involved in playing politics, going far beyond their mandate and call to duty," WA Refugee group Project SafeCom said this morning.
Project SafeCom had involvement in the Baxter protests with its usual role of networking and media monitoring from its WA office, linking protesters with media representatives and keeping an eye on reports appearing in the media.
"This has been an extremely successful protest in terms of the exemplary cohesion amongst protesters, and the clear non-violent and playful 'tactics' and expressed intent, but the "disruption agents" are clearly the South Australian police force, and they should be brought to account for it," spokesman Jack Smit said, who has contacted State parliamentarians in the South Australian government. "And what happened this morning, goes beyond belief", Mr Smit said, "and it almost makes me sick: police officers pricking into balloons and wrecking them".
This morning police disrupted a peaceful march of refugee advocates "armed with balloons" towards the centre, and forced themselves, "using sharp tools to pop all of the protesters' balloons", as reported by the ABC.
Yesterday advocates reported they had been playing cricket outside the Baxter detention centre, and some officers had been helpful by returning balls that landed across the fence, while other officers, who confiscated the balls, were named "un-Australian" by the players. The game included 'knocking them out for Six and Never Out', a reference to indefinite detention in the Baxter centre. Protesters have reported to Project SafeCom they would also be playing "Lacrosse" later that day.
But a media statement of the SA Police alleged that "protesters were armed with cricket bats and lacrosse sticks", and an Associated Press report, apparently written in Sydney based on internet material and phone conversations had appeared in the South China Post in Taiwan (reprinted below), which alleged that "Police said the protesters used lacrosse sticks and baseball bats against the police and their horses".
This reporting, clearly aided by police, is blatant spin and misreporting, and Australian reporters on the ground at the protest site, when contacted by Project SafeCom, also clearly saw this as untruthful reporting.
"It is bad enough that we have an oppressive detention system that is in breach of a series of international conventions, a regim that makes people sick and mad," Mr Smit said. "What we don't need, is the SA police becoming involved in creating spin, distorting the facts, and being engaged in pro-Howard politics. This goes back to the South Australian government, it goes back to Mike Rann and to his State Police Minister's support, not of Law and Order, but of the Federal government's appalling detention policies, and we intend to inform Mike Rann of this and get this issue addressed in the South Australian Parliament."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Baxter protest contacts:
Perth Peace activist and former human shield
Refugee Rights Action Network
NUS National Environment Officer
Melbourne Refugee Action Collective
Protesters clash with police at remote immigration facility
SYDNEY, Australia (AP)
The South China Post, Taiwan
Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in riot gear outside a remote immigration detention center in southern Australia on Saturday, police and local media reported.
About 400 protesters converged on the Baxter Immigration Detention Center near the southern city of Port Augusta on Friday, part of a weekend-long demonstration against Australia's mandatory detention policy that requires asylum seekers to be detained while their cases are processed.
On Saturday, the protesters - who were camped about 5 kilometers (3.11 miles) away from the center - marched to the facility, where about 120 of them clashed with about 200 police in riot gear and some on horseback, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on its Web site.
Police said the protesters used lacrosse sticks and baseball bats against the police and their horses.
Four people were arrested for trespassing, a South Australia state police spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity. There were no major injuries reported.
Refugee activists have staged protests at Australia's immigration centers over the Easter weekend in years past, usually hiring buses to transport the demonstrators to the remote locations.
In 2002, a group of protesters aided a mass escape from the now defunct Woomera detention center, also in South Australia. At a protest near Baxter the following year, scuffles broke out as dozens of police forced demonstrators to move their encampment away from the center.