Harsh sentences for Gaza protesters

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Saturday, 20 February 2010


Further harsh sentences were doled out yesterday as more of those arrested at the Gaza demonstrations last year attended Isleworth Crown Court for sentencing. A total of fifty people are to be sentenced for taking part in violent disorder during the protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Kensington last January. Previous sentencing has ranged between twelve months and two and a half years.

A further two defendants, both described as being of ‘exemplary character’ were yesterday sentenced to two years imprisonment. Another, for whom this was also a first offence, was sent down for 12 months. Four who had been under 18 at the time of the offence received detention orders ranging from 8 to 12 months. One was given a suspended sentence on grounds of mental illness, and two others were adjourned for pre-sentence reports.

The court was told how the defendants were fighting with police, although most of the allegations were of throwing or hitting out with flimsy placard sticks at riot police in full protective gear. A few of the defendants were also accused of ‘assisting’ others with picking up and throwing crowd control barriers that had been used by police to kettle protesters.. But there were no reports of any injuries sustained by anyone as a result of their actions. One man, a university student, got twelve months for throwing a single missile. His family sobbed in the gallery.

The court was not told about – nor seemed at all interested in – the context in which this violence happened. The court was not told about the police violence that was meted out on Gaza protesters during the numerous protests that took place in December and January last winter. How protesters were forced into pens, despite the crush that this caused. That protesters slow to move were pushed, shoved and sworn at, and those who objected, or who tried to move back barriers were hit with shields and batons.

Neither was the court interested in the political situation that was unfolding at the time. One of the defendants had recently visited part of his family in Gaza, a family including young children who were inevitably suffering under the brutal and unlawful military offensive that Israel had launched. It mattered not at all. He was sentenced to two years.

The Judge made it clear that the aim of these sentences was to act as a ‘deterrent to others’. It was not the behaviour of the individual that was important, he said, but the collective behaviour of the crowd.

These sentences cannot be seen as anything other than political, given the sustained effort and committment the state has put in to bringing so many people before the courts. The ‘deterrent’ effect intended is surely that of making Muslim communities fearful of taking to the streets again.

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