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Kurdish rights campaigner subjected to ‘circus’ trial during pandemic found not guilty

by Bethany Rielly
At Southwark Crown Court 

A MAN charged 18 months ago for giving a police officer a “little push” at a pro-Kurdish protest outside the Turkish embassy was found not guilty of assault today. 

Following the decision at Southwark Crown Court, campaigners told the Morning Star that it was “ridiculous” that the “minor” incident had continued to a criminal trial, especially given the current pressures on the court system and health risks posed by the pandemic.

The case centres on an incident during a protest outside the embassy in Belgravia on June 7, 2019.

The event was called to oppose the Turkish government’s construction of the Ilisu Dam which has since flooded dozens of Kurdish-majority villages, displacing around 20,000 people.

Campaigners had claimed at the time that the police had acted “aggressively and disproportionately” after protesters attempted to block the road. During the event, the defendant, who wants to be referred only by the initials JL, was arrested after pushing an officer. 

During the three-day trial this week the court was shown body camera footage from the officer in question, PC Nicholas Swift. 

It showed the officer grabbing the arms of a protester standing in the parking space on the edge of the road. The man tells him: “Don’t hurt me.” In response PC Swift says: “I’ll do what I want” adding: “I can use force.” JL then pushes the officer and is arrested. 

The defence argued that PC Swift had “unlawfully manhandled” the man in the road, and JL had pushed the officer in “lawful defence of another.”

In the prosecution’s closing statement, Edward Hollingsworth noted the alleged assault was “fairly small fry, it’s not serious violence but we would say it’s unlawful.”

But on Friday, the jury ruled that JL was not guilty of assaulting the officer. 

Outside the court, JL said he felt “relieved” and “vindicated” following the verdict, but that the 18-month ordeal has been “extremely stressful.” 

“It’s absolutely outrageous that they would drag not only myself and the defence witness halfway across the country during a pandemic, but also 12 jurors … to oversee a trial this minor,” he told the Morning Star.

“The whole case has been a circus intended to intimidate protesters and those who defend themselves against police acting violently.”

Emily Apple, who said that she sustained lasting injuries as a result of police actions during the protest in 2019, said the CPS’s decision to force JL to attend court during the pandemic shows it is “prioritising” political cases.

Netpol campaigns co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said: “This isn't the first time that campaigners appear to have been treated more harshly because of the cause they support. 

“It is intended to wear people down, alienate potential public sympathies and restrict campaigners’ ability to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and association.”

Responding to the case, the UK Kurdish Peoples' Assembly said in a statement:

"The fact that this case was ever taken to trial speaks volumes about how those who stand in solidarity with the Kurdish people are mistreated and persecuted by the British state.

"This is a repeating pattern in the treatment of political protesters in the UK, and a worrying sign of continuing repression of protest and solidarity that specifically targets the Kurdish cause.

“The defendant is an anti-imperialist, an environmental activist and friend of the Kurdish freedom movement, and we are relieved to see a just verdict in his case."

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