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Political prisoners in Australia

October 26, 2010
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BY MARISA SPOSARO

Introduction

I am from 3Cr community radio in Melbourne Australia. I am part of a small collective which broadcasts a prison show called “Doin time.” I have been involved in the prison struggle for many years, and have been in organizations such as Anarchist Black Cross Melbourne, Anarchist Black Cross Federation Los Angeles and Advocacy for Women in Prison in Melbourne. I have also worked with other organizations involved with Aboriginal deaths in custody. Jaan Laaman suggested to us, (Anarchist Black Cross Melbourne) that we write a piece about political prisoners in Australia and some of the organizations and resources that are available in the prison struggle here in this country. It is important to note here that police powers are greatly increasing in Australia and civil liberties are being compromised more and more.

For clarification, this is not a critique of the prison system. Rather, I am drawing upon sources to talk about political prisoners in Australia, and then go on to list resources that are available.

Lex Wotton

The most well known recent political prisoner who is now on parole is respected Aboriginal leader Lex Wotton who is from Palm Island. Lex Wotton, 41, was sentenced to six years jail in November 2008 for inciting an angry mob to burn down the Palm Island police station in November 2004. The riot erupted after the release of a post-mortem examination on local indigenous man Mulrunji Doomadgee who died while in custody. The Queensland Parole Board approved Wotton’s application for release after just 19 months in prison, on a range of conditions. These include a ban on attending public meetings without prior approval, a ban on gambling or attending venues where gambling is conducted and a ban on speaking to the media.

The Courier Mail, a well known Australian paper, reported that “Palm Island locals expressed their dismay at the conditions, saying they would only serve to isolate Wotton from the community where gambling was a popular pastime and rallies a regular occurrence. “I haven’t heard of a prisoner in Australia having this kind of condition of release since David Hicks, and Lex Wotton is certainly no terrorist’’ said community leader Rob Blackley. “He’s being denied a political voice and the ability to contribute.’’ Mr Blackley said he had never heard of a parolee being banned from speaking to the media. “It would be hard on any proactive individual in society to be denied the right to speak to media; that’s a fundamental right.” he said. “I think they’ll find we’ll get around it somehow.’’ Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey said the conditions would restrict Wotton’s ability to “fit into the community again.’’ “This is Lex’s home. We should never forget that.” he said. A Queensland Corrective Services spokesman said the condition of not talking to the media was fairly standard for all parolees. He said failure to abide by any of the conditions would mean Wotton could be charged with breach of parole and returned to jail.

What happened is now well known. A coronial inquiry found that police officer, Chris Hurley, hit Mulrunji with such force, the blow was fatal. His liver was cleaved in two. Hurley received compensation and a promotion while respected community leader, Lex Wotton, was jailed. After 19 months behind bars, Lex is now free, but politically muzzled.

Akin Sari, an arrestee from the G20 campaign in Melbourne was placed in prison for approximately 12 months on trumped up charges. He is now out of prison but serving parole.

Australia is not the paradise that many overseas visitors seem to think it is. Asylum seekers are locked in detention here. Recently eleven refugees protested on the roof of the Villawood Detention Centre with a hunger strike. Refugee groups have received reports of detainees refusing water and in some cases, slashing themselves and even threatening suicide. No one should be illegal, and there should be no borders.

Australian Resources

Anarchist Black Cross Melbourne

We support political prisoners and prisoners of war under the guidelines of the Geneva Convention. We support environmental and animal rights activists on a case by case basis. We support Indigenous people who are imprisoned for the protection of sacred sites, the rights of their land, culture and achieving justice for their own people.

We support the rights and protection of asylum seekers in Australia and neighbouring countries. We also support prisoners who are politicized behind bars on a case by case basis. Thorough research is conducted about each prisoner or arrestee before agreeing to support.

ABC Melbourne does not support sex offenders or racial and supremist prisoners. We are committed to stopping Aboriginal deaths in custody. ABC has sought to bring attention to the plight of all prisoners, with an emphasis on anarchists and class war prisoners.

We provide support for arrestees by raising money at benefits and fundraising concerts. We also have a bulletin covering not only prison related issues, but also Aboriginal rights, and genocidal issues in the Aboriginal struggle.

For further information please write to P.O. Box 300 Brunswick East 3057 Victoria, Melbourne Australia

Indigenous Social Justice Association Melbourne

The Indigenous Social Justice Association Melbourne (ISJA Melb) was established in January 2005 to organize a Melbourne rally and march as part of a National Day of Action (NDA) to mark the first anniversary of the death of Kamilaroi teenager, TJ Hickey in Redfern, and to demand a fresh inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Those organizing this NDA held consultations with interested members of the Victorian Aboriginal community. Participants in these consultations enthusiastically supported the proposal for a Melbourne rally to demand justice for TJ but asked that this not be a one off event but part of an ongoing effort to permanently stop Aboriginal deaths in custody.

ISJA Melb is a grassroots, multi-racial activist group open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people which works collaboratively with others around the country campaigning to stop Indigenous deaths in custody. ISJA Melb works in collaboration with those who have lost a loved one in custody and makes its decisions democratically with all meeting participants having an equal say.

ISJA Melb’s primary objective is to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody and support Aboriginal people’s quest for justice. However, it recognizes that the struggle to end Indigenous deaths in custody cannot be separated from the wider campaign for Indigenous rights. This is why we also work to advance campaigns to recognize the sovereignty of Australia’s many Indigenous nations and the negotiation of genuine treaties with these nations and why we oppose the federal government’s intervention into NT Aboriginal communities.

ISJA Melb calls for:

  1. A massive reduction in the rate of Indigenous imprisonment which is currently 13 times the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.
  2. The full implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, including those recommendations that both arrest and imprisonment be the sanctions of last resort.
  3. Because nearly 50% of the deaths in custody investigated by the RCIADIC were of the stolen generations, we call for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report.
  4. No further increases in police powers. We oppose calls to further arm police with weapons such as tasers.
  5. The establishment of elected community based review boards with the full legal and legislative powers to investigate, discipline and charge police, prison and custodial health officers found to be involved in a death in custody, negligence or lack of duty of care to those they have a responsibility to and for. This is to include all juvenile justice areas.
  6. The provision by State and Federal Governments of adequate funding for Families who have lost a loved one in custody to meet at a states/territory level followed by a national meeting, as required, to allow their collective demands to be formulated, including suitable and adequate compensation.

ISJA Melb also sees the connections between the treatment of Australia’s Indigenous nations and other Indigenous people and oppressed nations around the globe and extend our solidarity whenever we can. We also note a pattern of institutionalised racism embedded within the capitalist law both in Australia and in other parts of the world. This is why we support the campaign to free political prisoners such as Lex Wotton, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. ISJA Melb believes that what we do makes a difference. We organize rallies, speak-outs, meetings, community education, petitions, benefits and other grassroots campaigning to highlight injustice and win a world where deaths in custody no longer occur. We do not place our faith in the system to deliver justice for Aboriginal people. Instead, we work to build an effective grassroots movement that cannot be ignored.

Melbourne Copwatch

Melbourne Copwatch is dedicated to bringing an end to police violence, abuse and intrusion into the lives of ordinary people. Police are the major cause of torture across the world. From the streets, to the police stations, from the courts to the prisons, the stories of violence, racism, abuse, concocted evidence and the racist, colonialist and capitalist exercise of police discretion infect and destroy the lives of millions.

Mainstream media compounds this war on the people. More and more of us live the lives of imprisonment, whether this is behind the bars of a jail or the wireless prisons of over policed communities.

Police are taking over the roles of community agencies and are funded to run camps for kids, holiday and welfare programs. The police are a law enforcement agency. Their intrusion into community sector roles come at the very same time as the community sector is disempowered and defunded from providing proper services, a disturbing and frightening reality. Far from increasing trust, police intrusion into the community sector creates disengagement and alienation.

Contact abcmelb@yahoo.com.au for more details.

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