AFP Commissioner Avoids Questions About Police Assault of Peaceful Protester

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AFP Commissioner Avoids Questions About Police Assault of Peaceful Protester

“If I was going to detain somebody, and they were a peaceful protester, I would endeavour to ensure that they didn’t get three broken ribs and fractured vertebrae, like happened after your officers,” Senator David Shoebridge put it to AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw last Monday.

“Do you agree that’s a poor outcome from an arrest?” the Greens senator then asked the head of the federal police, who was proving rather reluctant to consider the arrest, which saw Iranian protester Hamid Sotounzadeh hospitalised with serious injuries, was an issue worthy of raising.

As footage circulated by Counteract shows, Sotounzadeh was set upon by Australian Federal Police officers on 9 February, as he was demonstrating against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps across the road from that nation’s embassy in Canberra.

Indeed, that Sotounzadeh suffered fractured bones and was rendered unconscious due to officers setting upon him, for peacefully protesting the IRGC over the months-long repressions its subjected Iranians to, has led to the charge that the local cops acted in a manner akin to those in Iran.

The clip of the arrest shows a fellow protester gradually becoming more and more distressed as she approaches her friend who’s lying on the ground, covered in scuff marks and no longer moving, as three AFP officers hover around him.

Sotounzadeh was still in hospital five days after the police assault. And despite an officer insisting he’d failed to follow orders prior to their having set upon him, the man hasn’t been charged with anything.

Investigating their own

Shoebridge raised the police assault with the AFP commissioner during budget estimates on 13 February, advising Kershaw that Hamid had still been in hospital that morning. However, the top cop appeared to have difficulty in answering any of the senator’s questions about the incident directly.

Kershaw was hesitant about Shoebridge’s assertion that the incident was a “violent arrest”, as well as to the suggestion that it involved “potential police misconduct”, and he wouldn’t confirm what sort of breach of the law the protester is supposed to have partaken in.

However, AFP acting deputy commissioner of operations Lesa Gale did confirm the professional standards unit is currently investigating the matter. And this ongoing internal investigation was the reason Kershaw gave for his slipperiness around questioning.

And when Shoebridge reiterated that one could “jump to the conclusion” that a violent arrest has occurred, when a peaceful protester ends up in hospital with broken ribs after being taken into custody, Kershaw replied, “That’s your view. That’s your opinion, based on your limited knowledge”.

Defiant after the fact

The footage capturing parts of the assault opens with an AFP officer repeatedly pushing at Hamid, who’s filming, and commanding him to step back, despite the fact, as Shoebridge suggested, that he’s standing across the road from the embassy, and the protester insists he’s well within his rights.

The police officer then lunges at Sotounzadeh, whose tackled to the ground and the footage cuts out.

Fellow protester Ali Beikzadeh told Australian Associated Press that Hamid had protested in the same spot for the past 16 weeks with no issue, and questioned whether the assault had been sparked by it being the 44th anniversary of the revolution that established the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As for his part, Sotounzadeh has since posted footage from his hospital bed on Instagram with a message written on the palms of his hands that states, “I’ll be back next week. IRGC terrorists.”

Over 500 protesters have been killed in Iran by government forces, since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in hospital after being arrested by the Iranian morality police for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards last September.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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