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"Politically motivated intimidation": Bail conditions removed after midnight raid on UNSW activist

UNSW Education Officer Cherish Kuehlmann has accused NSW Police of using “politically motivated intimidation” tactics after her restrictive bail conditions on a charge of aggravated trespass were overturned by the court.

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Cherish Kuehlmann stands in the middle of a street as a female police officer arrests her. A police

UNSW Education Officer Cherish Kuehlmann has accused NSW Police of using “politically motivated intimidation” tactics after her restrictive bail conditions on a charge of aggravated trespass were overturned by the court.

Kuehlmann, who was charged with a single count of unlawful entry on inclosed land, was arrested in a widely-criticised midnight raid on February 25 after leading a student protest against the housing crisis outside the Reserve Bank headquarters in Sydney.

Unexpectedly strict bail conditions — including a prohibition on entering within 2km of Sydney’s Town Hall — were imposed by NSW Police after her arrest, before being thrown out by local magistrate, Clare Fernan, after she described them as “inappropriate,” and questioned the motivation behind them.

“The purpose of bail conditions isn’t to prevent one from attending a protest, it’s to prevent a bail concern,” Fernan said, after NSW Police warned that without the bail restrictions, Kuehlmann “may engage in similar events” to those that led to her arrest.

The magistrate acknowledged the democratic right to protest, stating: “there are lawful protests that members of the community are lawfully entitled to attend.”

Kuehlmann claimed the arrest was a “politically motivated intimidation” tactic, intended to “make an example out of [her]” and “scare [her] into silence”.

She said the arrest shows how “police feel totally confident to crack down on protestors in any way they feel,” and that it “comes in the context of attacks on [the] civil liberties” of protestors more generally.

The protest that led to Kuehlmann’s arrest occurred at Martin Place last month,, where approximately 30 students marched to protest the rising cost of living for university students, in light of  further interest rate rises by the Reserve Bank.

The police fact sheet regarding the protest, as seen by the Guardian, claims Kuehlmann’s charge was in relation to the demonstrators’ presence on the grounds outside the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).

Although the protesters never entered the bank building itself, the document claims the forecourt in front is “still deemed to form part of the curtilage of the RBA”. The fact sheet alleges that “protesting activities carried out in this area without approval is considered unlawful and a trespass” on RBA property.

According to the document, Kuehlmann was “cautioned and spoken to” by NSW police regarding her involvement after the protestors left the RBA. Despite complying with NSW Police at the time of the protest, Kuehlmann was charged later that night with aggravated trespass during a surprise midnight raid.

“They banged on the door very loudly”, Kuehlmann said. “They told me I’m under arrest and I need to come with them.” Kuehlmann also described how the police only allowed her to get dressed under direct supervision, and confiscated her phone and keys.

Kuehlmann said she was then taken to the local police station for “around four hours,” after which she was released on strict bail conditions that the police threatened to “send [her] to jail for the weekend” if she did not sign.

“We’re increasingly seeing bail conditions being used to stop climate activists and other activists from associating with each other, from entering the city,” Kuehlmann said. “I will not be intimidated by this…I’ll continue to stand up for students and fight against the housing crisis”.

Kuehlmann intends to plead not guilty to the charges of aggravated trespass at her scheduled hearing on 25 October. A petition to drop the charges against her can be found at https://www.megaphone.org.au/petitions/drop-the-charges-against-cherish-kuehlmann.

 

Image provided by Cherish Kuehlmann.

 
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