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journalists arrested

published

i went out postering in the city on the 2nd of may 2016, ten days after the angry adshel guy incident.

i’d done a bunch of panels at a couple of different locations, then as i was walking down elizabeth street towards bourke street to find a new location, a police car pulled over in front of me, so i walked over and started chatting to the two officers.

what happened next was surprising — more police cars arrived, bringing a total of 9 officers including sergeant patrick bowen (the sergeant who appeared in the angry adshel guy video), and the sergeant gave orders to arrest all three journalists as well as me.

i said to patrick bowen that he was going to look pretty stupid in court for arresting innocent journalists, and he replied “wouldn’t be the first time” — but he’d never be the one looking stupid anyway, the sergeants make all the decisions, but it’s the gronk informants that have to front the judiciary to explain and defend the rationale behind the decisions they didn’t even make.

the journalists were handcuffed & searched on the street, placed in the back of the divisional van (at least one being arrested without being read their rights), and taken back to the station where they would be interviewed for “aiding and abetting” the indictable offence of criminal damage (that they were apparently charging me with).

after being strip searched, having their shoes and belts taken, spending some time in holding cells, sitting through ‘no comment’ interviews, and being put through the tedious process of fingerprinting on victoria police’s state-of-the-art-piece-of-shit fingerprinting machines, the journalists were finally released — only without their memory cards and recordings, which were seized as evidence.

at first the police were saying they were going to confiscate all the recording equipment as evidence, but one journalist convincingly argued there was no evidence value in the recording equipment itself — but really, if all they wanted was evidence they could have requested and taken copies of the recordings, but that wasn’t what this was about at all.

this was just a straight-up abuse of police power to intimidate journalists who were doing nothing wrong — 5 months later no charges have been laid, and they never will be (police love to do the opposite of what i say is going to happen, like they want to keep the fiction that they are free actors alive in themselves, but apart from the stress it might cause the journalists, i’d love it if the police were stupid enough to press charges, they’d lose so hard, lawyers would line up to represent these journalists and defend their civil and political rights).

they haven’t even charged me yet, because if they charged me they’d have to either charge my “co-accused” at the same time or admit they have no case and give back the shit they stole for no good reason — i expect once the 6 month period they have to press charges has lapsed, i’ll get charged and the memory cards will be returned to the innocent journalists, “evidence” wiped (wanna prove me wrong on this one police? be my guest).

initially i thought that “aiding and abetting” charges could only be laid when an indictable offence was involved (and as they’ve never been able to convict me of an indictable offence for postering, they would never be able to prosecute the journalists with “aiding and abetting”) — but professor jeremy gans (who, unlike the police and myself, actually knows the law) helpfully took the time to tell me that “aiding and abetting” charges had always applied to summary offences under the old section 324 of the victorian crimes act 1958.

also, the “aiding and abetting” charges have been changed recently — the new sections 323 and 324 don’t use the “aiding and abetting” language any more, but they still vaguely state that “if an offence (whether indictable or summary) is committed, a person who is involved in the commission of the offence is taken to have committed the offence and is liable to the maximum penalty for that offence.” (section 324, emphasis mine).

section 323 of the crimes act gives us this:

“Interpretation

    (1)     For the purposes of this Subdivision, a person is involved in the commission of an offence if the person—

        (a)     intentionally assists, encourages or directs the commission of the offence; or

        (b)     intentionally assists, encourages or directs the commission of another offence where the person was aware that it was probable that the offence charged would be committed in the course of carrying out the other offence; or

        (c)     enters into an agreement, arrangement or understanding with another person to commit the offence; or

        (d)     enters into an agreement, arrangement or understanding with another person to commit another offence where the person was aware that it was probable that the offence charged would be committed in the course of carrying out the other offence.

    (2)     In determining whether a person has encouraged the commission of an offence, it is irrelevant whether or not the person who committed the offence in fact was encouraged to commit the offence.”

wow, this is pretty close to the thought crimes legislation i was dreading as if it was an unlikely dystopian joke — having an opinion that someone is making a legitimate political protest in spite of its present illegality, and expressing this publicly, could easily be interpreted as “encouragement” (and whether or not the person was in fact encouraged, or presumably even aware of the “encouragement”, is considered irrelevant!?).

this could be interpreted in an extremely repressive way… luckily i can’t see “thought crimes” being successfully prosecuted, but the existence of these laws is actually scary…

of course it would still be crazy for the police to charge journalists — whether or not they are gainfully employed by a for-profit media organisation (it’s the 21st century police, the people are the media now, have you even heard of the internet?) — surely we are not so far gone that these charges wouldn’t be thrown out.

the frustrating thing is that there is really no legal recourse to stop this abuse of police power — if the police drop the charges, and return the memory cards taken as ‘evidence’ after 6 months, there’s nothing to stop them doing it again, and repeatedly — deliberate wrongful arrest, deliberate wrongful confiscation, over and over…

one consequence of this abuse of police power has been that one of the journalists was going for a job where they needed a police check, and on the record appeared “criminal damage – charges pending” — the charges haven’t even been laid, and never will be, but this bullshit shows up on a person’s record, threatening to jeopardise a job application.

luckily the job was with a good organisation who, once being told the circumstances of the “pending charges”, ended up having more respect for the applicant, who got the job, but it might not have been such a harmless thing.

i refuse to fall into hatred for the police, but they really make it a challenge… i just keep remembering my logical truism: a.c.a.p.a. (all cops are potential allies) — which is as serious as it is intended to piss off the a.c.a.b. (all cops are barstards) crowd.

i was thinking it was time for a change of tactics anyway, but this police escalation and targeting of innocent journalists has just given me the final push.

here’s my police interview from that day, just for the record (the police seem unable to operate most of their technology, so around half the time the video element of their video recording devices is non-functional):