Campaign statement by Justice for the Bristol Protesters
Justice for the Bristol Protesters (JBP) is a group of parents, friends and supporters of those charged with riot and given harsh prison sentences as a result of being involved with the protest against the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill in Bristol on 21 March 2021. Most of these protesters are young people, who had never been in trouble with the police before and were demonstrating legitimately against the Police Bill for the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression.
Many were subject to violent attacks by Avon and Somerset Police who hit them with batons and bladed them with riot shields; at least one protester was knocked unconscious and another, a young woman of colour, Mariella Gedge-Rogers, feared for her life as she was pinned to the ground in an unprovoked attack by three police officers:
I was kneed to the floor by police and dragged around the floor by another officer whilst 3 officers held me down and one stood on my hand with their boot, my head was on the curb…this experience was very frightening…I didn’t know if I would get back up. I feared for my life.The Canary, 4/3/22
In contrast, the police claims of serious injury to officers were later retracted.
Forty-seven people have so far been charged with offences relating to the disturbance. Many had initial charges of affray and violent disorder escalated to riot before they reached the Magistrates Court.
It is very rare in England and Wales for the riot charge to be used in legitimate protests and requires permission from the Director of Public Prosecution. While many cases are still awaiting sentence or are going through the Courts, at least 15 people have so far been convicted of riot and sentenced in total to over 75 years in prison.
Such widespread use of the riot charge in this instance, compared to other more serious disturbances where the riot charge was not brought, looks like an assault on our legitimate right to protest and a deliberate attempt to silence dissent.
The young people caught up in the disturbances of 21 March 2021 were standing up for everyone’s right to freedom of speech and have paid a very heavy price. As well as disproportionately harsh prison sentences, many have been traumatised by their experiences and have been demonised by the mainstream media. JBP aims to restore their reputations and get them the justice they deserve.
The state made an example of our loved ones. We demand they are returned to us immediately.
(Photo credits: Eddy Martin)