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Report On Sydney "Seige" Over Trade Union Rights

What Really Happened At The Colombian Consulate

By Ryan Heath

Hello Friends and Comrades,

Just thought I'd share with you a quite disgusting first hand experience of the abuse of police power - in terms of weapons and racism from the police.

As you may have gathered from media reports North Sydney was shut down on Wednesday 8 August by the armed police tactical response squad (at least 80 with guns). They were responding to what was alleged (by who???) to be a group of armed terrorists who had taken children and Colombian consulate staff hostage.

Apparently the N.U.S. flag I took the peaceful human rights protest was the "weapon" which led to Australia's most full on terrorist action plan response since the Hilton bombing in 1978

What really happened ....

9.30am A group of 16 protesters and an Australian Associated Press journalist entered the open door of the Colombian consulate on the 12th floor of the Walker Street building.

We informed them that we wanted to speak to representatives of, or in fact the Colombian President himself, in relation to the assassinations of 200 trade union activists by right wing government death squads in Columbia in just 18 months. After about 30 seconds of argument the staff agreed to let us use their phones and fax and assisted us in contacting the right people by providing Colombian phone directories, bottled water and so on.

Two crucial points here: - for an hour the staff continued to process the visas of visitors to the office, and continued their work. While those who did not speak Spanish and the kids played with toys in the reception area. - a man delivered stationery to the office freely, even though, according to the police, the "siege" was already under way.

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By about 10.30 things seemed to be wrapping up so the AAP journalist and myself headed out to leave- but the lifts had been locked and the building evacuated. We called AAP who told us the surrounding blocks had been cordoned off and the police were conducting a press conference about the "terrorist attack". We decided that leaving the building might lead to us being shot (love those new shoot to kill laws) so we stayed put and relayed the news to those still in the consulate office.

The phones and fax were cut off and the journos mobile phone died. We had two mobile phones, four English speakers out of 19 present and no police contact.

Started to call media to ask the police to call us and tell us what was happening - everyone from Perth to Sydney radio was called to get this message to the police.

In doing this we emphasised: - the staff were not being held against their will (too scared to leave just like us) - we had no weapons - we wanted to leave. - we were scared by 80 police with machine guns - neither the staff or police have asked us to leave building.

Decided to leave and thought to go in small groups and told police to try and protect ourselves. Police lie to media and say 14 of the 16 refuse to leave.

As each small group attempts to leave, groups of three to four police point those huge guns you saw on the TV in our face - from a distance of about three metres in the fire escape. We have our bodies and properties searched. They don't tell us what we are arrested for, or that we are arrested.

1.30 -5.30
Locked up at North Sydney Police station. All of us are separated and interviewed separately by federal police. Not charged with anything, not told that we are arrested. Federal immigration authorities interview all the non-anglo prisoners (after alleging that we are all probably illegal immigrants anyway). Myself and journalist are not subjected to this even though I didn't even have a drivers license on me.

Most of the police officers assigned to guard each of us individually, think the whole thing is a joke and go get us some McDonalds cos they fell sorry for us and they themselves haven't eaten.

One of the Colombian Australians is locked up separately from rest of us as he is an "illegal immigrant". In fact he is a resident of Australia with a bridging visa covering him until his citizenship application is finalised. He just happened to not have ID on him. (I also did not have a drivers license on me but, hey, I looked white so I wasn't questioned about it)

14 of the 16 protesters are gathered up to the staff tearoom for a joint address by the NSW and Federal Police who at length go through the process of APOLOGISING TO us. Some of the specific phrases were: "We made a mistake -we acknowledge you had no weapons" "You are free to go - we are sorry this has happened" "We recognise this was a peaceful protest".

Late that night Commissioner Peter Ryan lies and says the police did not apologise even though he had nothing to do with it. Says the police did not over-react (he failed to consult my mother and grandmother as to whether they agree on this point)

And so the police essentially were running a publicity stunt to fix up their image - and were using a group of easy targets as the fodder.


Ryan Heath
NSW Branch President,
National Union of Students
Tel: 0408 704 427

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