Statement of Concern: Treatment of Legal Observer 18/7/15

Wednesday 22nd July 2015
Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS)

On Saturday, 18th of July, 2015, at approximately 12:43PM on the corner of little Bourke and Spring streets, in Melbourne, Australia a MALS Legal Observer had their mobile phone snatched out of their hands by a Victorian Police member from the Operations Response Unit (ORU) during counter-protests to the Reclaim Australia rally.

The Legal Observer was pushed and yelled at aggressively by the police member. The mobile phone was not returned when requested and was later found smashed a short distance away. When asked by a senior officer, the police member in question denied he had taken the phone.

Legal Observers play a critical and well recognised role in the protection of human rights. Legal Observers monitor, investigate, gather information regarding and report on human rights violations. Volunteer Legal Observers are recognised as Human Rights Defenders by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights(1) and as such fall under the protection of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.(2)

This forced confiscation of the phone by police is unlawful and represents a concerning violation of the right to independently monitor police action. Any infringement on the ability to monitor or record the actions of public authorities during public protest events is of serious concern.

Melbourne Activist Legal Support will be submitting a formal complaint to Victoria Police regarding this incident and seeking assurances from Victoria Police regarding the police behaviour toward Legal Observers at future events.

Members of the public or journalists with information are asked to contact the Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre on fklegal@fkclc.org.au or 03 9376 4355.

The series of images below capture the incident.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.48.29 pm

Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS) is a volunteer organisation that provides legal assistance to groups and communities exercising their right to undertake grassroots political action. MALS provides direct protest support services at major demonstrations: monitoring police engagement with protesters, providing basic legal information to persons at risk of being arrested, and coordinating litigation support in conjunction with law firms and community legal centres.

1 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (www.ohchr.org)

2 Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet29en.pdf)

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