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Fightback - "We Will Not Be Silenced By Violence"

Media Statement For Immediate Release

16th March 2000

ANGRY WINZ PROTESTERS: "WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED BY VIOLENCE"

Students were shocked by the violence of police in trying to stop a peaceful protest against WINZ, fees and debt this afternoon. "Right from the start police were pushing and shoving students as they attempted to march up Queen St," said Megan Hall, spokesperson for Fightback, the group of students who organised the rally.

"We have been constantly putting pressure on the Government and on WINZ to sort out the mess they have made of the Student Loan Scheme and Student Allowances. One of our methods has been to organise mass rallies of students, and this was the second we had organised in a fortnight," said Hall. " The police made it quite clear they were trying to stop us from getting our message through by using violence and totally unjustified arrests to intimidate people, in particular focusing on younger students."

Students are organising another mass rally for tomorrow, to protest against police brutality and again try to bring the plight of students to the attention of the public. They will be rallying at 12.30pm in the University of Auckland Quad, Princes St.

"A Select Committee is currently investigating police treatment of protesters against the Chinese President last year in Christchurch and we want this broadened to include the Anti-Protest Division at Auckland, who seem to think that they have a right to punch, hit and kick student protesters who are peacefully sitting on the pavement or marching through the streets," said Hall.

Fourteen arrests were made in total. Three arrests were made during the march itself, two of which involved excessive force by police. The remaining eleven arrests were made once the group of students had gone up to the Central Police Station to demand the release of their friends. One of those arrested was a young woman who had been brutally punched and shoved by police earlier on the march. "She was clearly singled out to stop her from laying a complaint later, and to intimidate her," said Hall. Two more, who were fifteen years old, appear to have been released without charges, leading to student leaders questioning the legality of their detention.

"We believe these arrests were made in an attempt to discredit complaints that would be made later and to dissuade us from peacefully protesting in the future," said Hall. "The Bill of Rights Act has specific provisions allowing freedom of assembly, association, speech and movement, and the police consistently ignored those throughout the day, utilising violence and threats to put people off standing up for their rights."

"We have photographic evidence showing the police's brutal tactics, and we intend to release this to the media as soon as possible. Anyone should be able to protest freely in New Zealand, without fear of brutality or intimidation by the police. At the end of the day, the police are letting WINZ and the Government off the hook and perpetuating the injustices of the current tertiary education system," said Hall.

Contacts: Megan Hall or Kirsty McCully (09) 623-2676 (021) 216-7868 Miriam Bellard (09) 309-0789 ext. 244

Fightback is a group of students organising actions and advocating Free Education. There are currently groups on several Auckland campuses, including the University of Auckland, AUT and MIT.


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