Student activists have told the Sunday Herald that they were deprived of food, water and medical attention while being held overnight in police cells last week. Some also said they’ve been woken by dawn raids, or asked to become paid informers.
The protesters have been backed by their parents, who are alarmed that non-violent demonstrators are being treated “like terrorists”. The Green MSP, Robin Harper, has also accused the police of a “gross over-reaction”
Five members of a group called the Edinburgh Clown Army were seized and detained by Lothian and Borders Police on Wednesday after a protest against biofuels at a BP garage near Tollcross. They insisted they had been engaging in light-hearted pranks which had not prevented anyone from going about their lawful business.
“We were sitting on a wall resting, and wondering whether to go home when dozens of police suddenly arrived and dragged us into a van,” said Sophie Bastable, a 20-year-old environment student at Edinburgh University. “It was like being snatched from the street.”
The five clowns were taken to St Leonard’s police station, where they were fingerprinted, photographed and had their costumes confiscated. They were held until they appeared in Edinburgh Sheriff Court 24 hours later, to be charged with breach of the peace.
Bastable, who is a vegan, was only given an apple and two plain white buns to eat. CID officers were aggressive, bullying and heavy-handed, she claimed. “It was scary and felt very repressive,” she said.
“We never expected to be criminalised in this manner. We were under the impression that free speech and the right to protest was our right in the UK but the behaviour of the police have made us think otherwise.”
A veteran of protests against roads and nuclear weapons, Bastable has been arrested several times. “But I’ve never been treated as a criminal like that before,” she stated. “It was a shocking experience.”
Another of the clowns was Amy Naumann, a 20-year-old Quaker and anthropology student at Edinburgh University. She had never been arrested before and was said to be distressed and crying when she arrived at St Leonard’s.
According to protesters, she was singled out by the police, interviewed for up to two hours and kept in solitary confinement. She was pressed for information about other protests and asked to identify people in photographs.
When she was returned to the cell with the other clowns, she started vomiting from stress. The police then refused to give her proper medical treatment, the protesters claimed.
The “persecution” of the clowns is alleged to be the latest in a escalating series of actions against peaceful green protesters. Two members of the anti-aviation group, Plane Stupid Scotland, involved in hanging a banner from the roof of the Scottish Parliament last week, have been targeted by dawn raids.
“They came into my flat at 7.30 in the morning last month and detained me for questioning,” said Jon Panter-Brick. “They were obviously harassing me, and trying to intimidate me. Given how regularly this is happening at the moment, it seems to be part of an ongoing campaign of harassment.”
Environmental campaigners also claimed that two of their number in Edinburgh had been phoned up by the police and asked to become “paid informants”. Earlier this month it was reported that an infiltrator working for a counter-intelligence company had been unmasked by Plane Stupid in England.
“There's a bit of cognitive dissonance for me here,” said Pete Ritchie, the father of a protester and an organic farmer in the Borders. “We are supposed to be facing the greatest environmental threat humanity has known, we slag off young people as hoodies and wasters, and then when a bunch of them make a bit of non-violent noise to wake the rest of us up, we treat them like terrorists.”
The Green MSP Robin Harper added: “I'm delighted to see young people taking part in creative, informative and peaceful protests. The police have clearly grossly over-reacted to this event, and I would be surprised if the procurator fiscal sees fit to send this case to court.”
Lothian and Borders Police issued a short statement in response to the allegations. “Everyone brought into the custody suite at St Leonard's is afforded the same level of common courtesy and respect,” said a police spokeswoman.
“In terms of meal provision, a hot breakfast and lunch is provided, along with a packed evening meal and hot drink. There is also provision for people with specific dietary requirements. If anyone has any concerns with their treatment at St Leonard’s, they should raise it with police.”
Although the police offered no explanation for what had happened, the protesters said they had been quizzed about recent incidents in Edinburgh. A branch of the Starbucks coffee chain had been attacked, and the tyres of 4x4s had been deflated by inserting mung beans into their valves.
The five clown protesters are due to appear in court in July and August.