Friday, April 27, 2012

Free speech campaign planned as activist fined for displaying sign

Independent film maker and anti-fracking activist Zeb Parkes has been fined $500 by the City of Perth for his participation in a rally against gas fracking on April 21. Parkes intends to defend the matter in court rather than paying the fines.

City of Perth rangers took the controversial step of trying to suppress the whole protest. They seized the stall table erected by the organising group No Fracking WAy, they ripped placards and banners out of people's hands and they called police who issued "move on" notices to two participants.

Kamala Emanuel, who was an organiser of the protest and one of the people to receive a move on notice, told Green Left that the police said they were acting on the council rangers' instructions to "disperse" the protest.

One of the infringement notices received by Parkes, which carries a $100 penalty, was for "displaying a sign without a licence". The City of Perth "signs local law" purports to prohibit the "display [of] a hand held sign on ... a public place". This bylaw is explicitly against free speech and needs to be struck down by the Perth City Council.

The second infringement notice, which carries a $400 penalty, was for "trading without a permit". The stall contained petitions and information leaflets. None of the material on the No Fracking Way stall was for sale.

This begs the question: if council rangers were concerned about "trading without a permit", why did they seize the No Fracking Way stall in the first place? What is the council's objection to people collecting signatures on petitions and handing out information leaflets on important issues like gas fracking in WA?

A second stall - from Socialist Alliance - was also seized by council rangers. The Socialist Alliance stall included a range of political literature - including Green Left Weekly - and a badge display board as well as leaflets and contact lists. In other words, it was the usual kind of stall from a campaign group that you could find at any rally in Perth, not a commercial enterprise. Whatever the pretext, any attempt to seize or disrupt such a stall is a violation of ordinary people's rights to express themselves and to organise for change.

These latest developments have prompted activists from a range of campaigns including No Fracking WAy, Occupy Perth and Refugee Rights Action Network (among others) to make initial plans to establish a free speech campaign in Perth.

[Contact Alex Bainbridge on 0413 976 638 if you want to take part in the Defend Free Speech campaign.]

Material seized (and returned) by Perth Rangers from the April 21, 2012 rally