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Journalists and protesters assaulted and detained during massive police clampdown at G20

Journalists and peaceful protesters were beaten and arrested in a security clampdown during G20 demonstrations.
Journalists and peaceful protesters were beaten and arrested in a security clampdown during G20 demonstrations.

André Paquin

As thousands came out to demonstrate last weekend at the G20 summit held in Toronto, Canada, a significant expansion of police powers led to arbitrary searches and mass arrests, and numerous journalists beaten and detained as they attempted to do their jobs. According to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), legitimate public protest was suppressed with the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators in designated free speech zones.

Massive security fences were set up in preparation for the summit, with a reported approximately one billion dollar price tag on security costs alone. But video footage, photographs and published reports paint a picture of violent arrests and repression of free expression on the city streets far from the security fence. Among many Canadian journalists who were attacked, two photojournalists were arrested and charged, a TV news producer was detained, and another journalist was punched in the face by a police officer, while others were struck with batons. A video journalist was thrown to the ground and beaten by police. Many journalists were simply barred from covering the protests.

Freelance journalist Jesse Rosenfeld, working for "The Guardian", was punched in the stomach and shoved to the ground. An officer told Rosenfield that his alternative media centre press pass wasn't "a legitimate press pass." Rosenfeld told CBC news he said, "I am not resisting arrest. I am a journalist. Why are you beating me?"

"All accredited journalists had been vetted by security officials. There is no reason for them to have been detained or attacked while doing their work," said CJFE. Merely urging individuals to file complaints about their treatment is an inadequate response from politically accountable security forces. CJFE is continuing to gather information on more journalists detained and harassed while covering the G20 protests.

Out of an estimated 10,000 protestors, dozens of violent protestors caused damage to stores and banks downtown, including torching several police cars, mostly on 26 June. Peaceful demonstrators were dismayed that their messages to G20 leaders were lost among the coverage of violence by a small minority, and the resulting police crackdown which managed to scoop up many legitimate protestors and innocent bystanders in its net.

On 27 June, bystanders, journalists and peaceful protesters participating in a bike rally were pushed, shoved and hemmed in by riot police, and then arrested, according to a "Globe and Mail" reporter caught up in the detention. Citizens walking by, grocery shopping or just stopping to look were also barred from leaving by police, who used a tactic called "kettling" to trap people at a major downtown intersection for hours in a violent thunderstorm.

Amnesty International Canada said, "On the streets, protesters were faced with high fences, new weaponry, massive surveillance, and the intimidating impact of the overwhelming police presence. Combined with uncertainty and worry about unclear powers of arrest, this created an atmosphere in which countless individuals felt unable or too fearful to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and participate in rallies and other events." About 900 were arrested by the end of the weekend; although most have been released, say news reports. Amnesty, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and opposition politicians are among the many people calling for an inquiry into the detentions and the clampdown.

Among the thousands of demonstrators at Queen's Park on 26 June were people from Ethiopian, Somali and Vietnamese communities with a message for the leaders of their country of origin attending the summit. Ethiopians and Vietnamese were protesting the jailing of journalists and political prisoners in their countries, among other rights violations. According to the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV), more than 400 people from the Vietnamese-Canadian community - some flying in from across the country - came to highlight the plight of Vietnamese journalists, writers, bloggers and democracy advocates under arrest.

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