April 2008 national day of protest demands: Drop the Charges Against Lex Wotton Now!

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A campaign to throw out all charges against Palm Island Aboriginal leader, Lex Wotton,

is gaining momentum. Wotton participated in the November 2004 protest against the

killing of his friend Mulrunji, a respected community member and father, while in

police custody. Singled out in the crackdown that followed, Wotton faces charges of

“riot with destruction” — a charge that could lead to a jail sentence of more than ten

years. A National Day of Action will coincide with the start of Wotton’s trial in early

April. Support is growing in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and parts of the trade union

movement. Late last year, the Sydney Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia, which

is backing the national mobilisation, hosted a function for Lex Wotton to broaden support

among its members.

No justice, no peace. A blatant cover-up of what happened to Mulrunji in the Palm

Island watch house enraged the community. Responding to years of racist state violence,

and now Mulrunji’s death, they demanded justice. What triggered the angry protest was

the release of the first state inquiry into Mulrunji’s killing, which, while noting that he

had suffered a ruptured liver and four broken ribs, concluded that his death resulted from

a “scuffle.” A second coronial inquiry in September 2006 confirmed what everyone

already knew: that on November 19, 2004 at the Palm Island police station, Senior

Sergeant Chris Hurley had struck Mulrunji with such force that it caused the Aboriginal

man to die.

Four hundred people took part in the 2004 Palm Island rebellion — over 10% of the

entire island’s population! The large demonstration marched on the police station and

courthouse — the symbols of racist injustice. Queensland authorities retaliated with

vicious repression and targeted individuals for persecution. On March 22, 2007 a jury

acquitted four Palm Islanders charged with “riot” in connection with the November 2004

demonstration. But the state continues to scapegoat Lex Wotton, whom they allege was

the leader of the protest.

Far from being a “riot,” the Palm Island protest was an act of anti-racist resistance.

This struggle, like that of Redfern after the death of TJ Hickey nine months earlier,

brought the racist hounding of Indigenous communities across Australia to international

prominence. The resistance on Palm Island revitalised a national movement to expose

the causes of Aboriginal deaths in custody and stop the ongoing death toll that amounts

to genocide. This resistance is a big factor in why Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was

brought to court. His acquittal once again confirmed how stacked the legal system is

against Aboriginal Australians and how justified it was for the people of Palm Island to

stand up to the institutions of this racist system in November 2004.

We will not be intimidated! By jailing Lex Wotton, the state hopes to head off future

opposition to racist persecution. The Queensland government is trying to scare people

away from responding to the whitewash of Mulrunji’s killing and resisting Canberra’s

draconian invasion of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

This subjugation of Indigenous Australians is another form of the repression being

unleashed against trade unionists who stand up for workers’ rights. The Australian

Building Construction Commission has spied on, intimidated and threatened to imprison

several building workers for organising strikes and other resistance against exploitation.

Coordinated national protests planned for April 4 in the lead-up to Wotton’s trial, will

demand: Stop the Racist Political Persecution of a Palm Island Aboriginal Resident!

Defend the Right to Oppose Racist State Brutality! Drop the Charges Against Lex

Wotton!

The Queensland government continues to urge Aboriginal people and their supporters

to have faith in a system which acquits Senior Sergeant Hurley but threatens to jail

Lex Wotton for at least 10 years. The “justice” system exists to protect the rich and the

powerful. It is a system where, to quote legendary singer songwriter, Kev Carmody,

Aboriginal people can be “executed without trial” while held in custody. It is a system

that hunts down opponents of racism, like Wotton, who protest against this injustice. We

demand Lex Wotton’s freedom, now!

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