Charges were dismissed against 11 anti-Israel protesters in Australia who demonstrated in front of the Max Brenner chocolate and coffee store in July of last year claiming it aided the Israeli army.
After a three-week hearing, Melbourne Magistrate Simon Garnett ruled that the protest was not unlawful and did not pose a threat to public safety.
“It cannot be said that it was the actions of the protesters that caused any obstruction, hindering or impediment to members of the public,” he said, claiming that they “did not surround the premises with hostile intent or demeanor.”
“They entered for the purpose of conducting a political demonstration,” he added.
Garnett said five defendants were still awaiting a court decision regarding charges of hindering, assaulting or resisting police. Approximately 150 to 200 protestors were at the demonstration, and 132 police personnel were said to be present.
Defense lawyer Rob Stary said the decision had wide-ranging ramifications.
“This case is really a landmark case in the annuls of the criminal justice system because what it represents is people have a right to express themselves politically,” he said. “Police should not get involved in political protest or industrial disputes of this nature; (protests) shouldn’t be criminalized,” he claimed.
Yet, Peter Wertheim, the executive director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, called the decision “disturbing.”
“[T]he charges of trespass were dismissed, despite the fact that the demonstrators had refused to leave the shopping center area when they were told to leave by the centre manager,” he said.
“This has implications for the law of trespass generally and for the wider community. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that someone has the right to remain on your property, or property you are responsible for controlling, when you order them to leave, merely because they say they are expressing their political views. I think most people would find this unacceptable,” Wertheim added.