Utter the words police and excessive use of force in the same context, and most people will instantly think of the US. Then in the same breath of air, mention journalists and censorship, and most might instead refocus to China. That is what I’ve experienced; reading comments on news sites, following discussions on forums and on Twitter and when talking with people regarding such topics.
Excessive use of force by police is often attributed to the US while silencing the media is attributed to China. It’s a stereotype, an unfortunate one.
Wednesday last week, 16 May, changed that perception regarding such presumptions about the US and China. The use of excessive force and silencing the media can happen anywhere.
A group of Indigenous Australians had set up a Tent Embassy in Musgrave Park to protest the lack of rights they have in their own country – which were taken away from them in 1778 by the British.
The day before, Tuesday 15 May, they had been served with a final notice by Brisbane City Council to move-on and disassemble their Tent Embassy. This refusal was met with a warning that on Wednesday 16 May the Tent Embassy would be removed and disassembled by Queensland Police Service.
6 am on Wednesday 16 may it had been announced the police would move-in on the Tent Embassy.
At around 6 am about 200 police officers surrounded the Tent Embassy in Musgrave Park with 50-60 protesters and few journalists that had managed to enter before the police started their blockade.
Musgrave Park, which the Tent Embassy was located in, and its surrounding streets were closed and blocked for all access. You could leave, but police would not allow entry or re-entry to the Tent Embassy. Telling journalists, that if they would try to enter or didn’t comply with police orders, they would be subject to arrest.
After a two-hour long negotiation between the Tent Embassy and police, the police decided to evict people from the Tent Embassy and disassemble it. During negotiations the police offered less and less to the point the Tent Embassy felt they weren’t given any choice than to stand their ground.
The police moved-in en masse on the Tent Embassy, first targeting the media; telling journalists that if they did not move-on they would be arrested. When most of the media had been cleared out and stood far away the eviction started.
Wednesday 16 May was a day Australians were reminded that the government still doesn’t really care about the rights of the Indigenous Australians. It is also a day that should not only remind Australians, but also the world, censorship and threats directed at the media can and will happen anywhere – even in western democratic countries.
That day, silencing a minority and the media, happened in Australia.