Sydney, Australia, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Hundreds of Australians gathered in the center of Sydney on Friday to protest against custodial deaths of aboriginal people, despite the risk of a mass contagion of the new coronavirus and not being given permission for the demonstration.
“First, stop jailing the indigenous people, and secondly there should not be any more deaths in prison. In the last 40 years there have been around 1,000 prison deaths and no police officer or prison guard has ever been charged with anything,” Raul Bassi, the secretary of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, told Efe while explaining the reasons behind the protest.
The New South Wales police blocked the perimeter around the Sydney Town Hall and deployed around 600 officers along with police vehicles to prevent the protest, after announcing that it was “unauthorized” as the organizers had not officially informed of the event seven days in advance. However no violence was reported from the site.
In front of the Town Hall a group of youths began chanting slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” despite the police warning them to disperse or be arrested. After a while the protesters peacefully dispersed towards the Central railway station.
However, a police spokesperson insisted in an email response to Efe that the New South Wales police commissioner did not have the power to stop a public gathering.
The protest expressed solidarity with the global wave of demonstrations unleashed by the death of African American George Floyd under police custody, and demanded justice for the death of more than 430 aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people since 1991 under the custody of Australian authorities.
Australia’s indigenous people represent a disproportionate 28 percent of the prison inmates despite forming less than 3 percent of the country’s 25 million inhabitants.
Friday’s protest along with another called on Saturday to support the rights of refugees — which has been banned by a court — have led to a fierce debate in Australia surrounding civil rights and public safety.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also stoked controversy on Thursday by telling local radio channel 2GB that “there was no slavery in Australia” during the British colonization of the continent even though it was a “pretty brutal place.”
The comments led to outrage and criticism from historians and human rights activists, who pointed out facts like the Australian indigenous people’s salaries being withheld for decades in the 20th century or the forced transfer of more than 62,000 Melanesians between 1863 and 1903 to work on farms. Morrison later apologized for his comments. EFE-EPA