Photographs Clear Protester

I wasn’t at the demonstration against David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science when he went to speak at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of London University last June, but fortunately some other photographers were there filming and taking pictures.

Simon Behrman, one of the four students arrested there, writes:

The police and the security acted aggressively, threatening people with CS gas punching and hitting various people including me. What had started out as a peaceful protest turned violent because of the police over-reaction.

He goes on to state that to justify their assaults on him, “they fabricated statements accusing me of attempting to kick and punch police officers and security guards.” His case under Section 4 of the Public Order Act came to court yesterday, and was dismissed less than halfway through the hearing.

Fortunately Behrman had a good lawyer who found photographs and video that had been taken of the event, which enabled his barrister to completely demolish the evidence of the first police officer who testified, leading the magistrate to tell the ‘prosecution that their case “had been blown out of the water”’.  You can read a fuller account and see some photographs and video from the event on the Defend The Right To Protest web site.

I’ve several times been asked to provide pictures to help with the defence of protesters, and have always done so if I had relevant material. The police too often photograph protests and the people taking part, but somehow they seldom seem to be able to provide pictures that show the police misbehaving.  Even CCTV seems to fail mysteriously under such conditions.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I’ve yet to be asked by police to provide pictures.  Often when they make requests it seems to be more a general trawling for information than wanting evidence about a specific event, and I think rightly such requests are generally ignored by journalists, at least unless backed by a court order. To do otherwise would be acting as if we were a part of the police rather than taking an independent position.

At some protests, photographers are not made welcome and people sometimes object to being photographed although they are demonstrating on the street in public. As this case shows, photographs by independent observers are an important safeguard of our rights.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.