John McDonnell MP reports on the Defend the Right to Protest: Justice for Zenon meeting at Sussex University.
I went to Brighton last night to speak to a meeting at Sussex University, convened by the Defend the Right to Protest campaign. There were 250 young people at the meeting.
One of the university’s students, Zenon Mitchell-Kotsakis, was jailed last year for his part in the anti tuition fees demonstration in London. He threw a stick from a placard and was given 15 months in prison for the crime of violent disorder.
His mother, Maggie, came along to explain Zenon’s case and his current plight. He is hoping to leave prison soon and go back to university to complete his degree. I filmed Maggie’s extremely eloquent speech.
Zenon’s sentence, like so many others handed out to protesting students, was disproportionate to his actions. At most he and his lawyers were expecting a community service order.
Why was the sentence so heavy?
Well it’s fairly obvious that the courts, whipped up by the statements from politicians and the outrage in the right wing press, wanted to make an example of Zenon and the other students arrested in these demonstrations. The message from the courts to young people was pretty clear. Join in the protests and this is what you could get. Your future will be put at risk.
The problem for the Coalition Government and the whole of the establishment is that for many young people now, theirs is rapidly becoming a generation with no future.
Over a million young people are unemployed. For those coming out of universities or training there is nothing facing them but unemployment, cheap short term labour or forced work schemes.
The dreams and hopes of a generation are being destroyed.
With no future in prospect, many now have nothing to lose.
That is why research, like the recent study by Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby at Kent University, warns that further civil disorder in the form of strikes, demonstrations and riots are the likely product of the government’s austerity programme of cuts and privatisation.
What will be the government’s response?
Innevitably it will be further arrests and longer prison sentences and more attacks on civil liberties and in particular on the right to strike and the right to protest.
That’s why we need to mobilise now to defend the right to protest and to support all those that have been victimised and imprisoned for protesting.
John McDonnell and Maggie Mitchell will be amongst speakers at the Defend the Right to Protest Public Forum: Stand Up For Justice, Monday 5th March @ Euston Friends Meeting House, 7PM. Other speakers include: Imran Khan (Solicitor for Stephen Lawrence Family), Alfie Meadows (Injured student protester, now charged with Violent Disorder), Marcia Rigg (Justice For Sean Rigg), Liam Burns (NUS President) and Frank Fernie (Imprisoned protester, now free!).
Join the facebook event.
Please sign and share the petition calling an end to political charges and sentencing of protesters. Drop the charges against Alfie Meadows immediately