Cyprus Mail
Guest ColumnistOpinion

Time to adopt ‘rules of engagement’ for demos

comment theopemtou police firing water cannon at the protest in nicosia in march
Police firing water cannon at the protest in Nicosia

By Charalampos Theopemptou

 

Just a few months into my first year at university, the UK government decided to increase the fees for international students from something around £250 to a few thousand pounds per year.

At the time I was working in a clothes factory ironing dresses for Top-Shop and Dorothy Perkins to cover my expenses and there was no way for me to find that much money.

So I gladly joined with the rest of the students the demonstrations that were happening all over London, but especially near the prime minister’s residence, No 10 Downing street.

It was easy for me to do so, as I had taken part in many demonstrations in the previous years such as supporting my college lecturer for the right of women to have an abortion. It was the first time in my life that I had ever met an activist and no other person influenced my life more than she did. Just a few years previously the Women’s Liberation Movement had become very active, and women’s issues were often in the news.

Once we knew the day and time of the next demonstration, the university students’ union, held a meeting to explain, mostly to us foreigners, how the police behaved under such conditions and their “rules of engagement”.

We were told (and also read in the police handouts) that the police standing in line, would not care what we were saying, shouting or singing. But if anyone touched them, or had any other type of body contact, they would surely respond and that might involve some level of physical assault.

So before a march, the police knew the date, the time and the place of the demo, and they made sure that we knew what their rules of engagement were.

These memories back in the students’ union building kept coming back to me with the recent events in Cyprus and the police response with the water cannon and other stories that are told among gatherings of young people.

What we urgently need to do, is for the police to first define the various scenarios and adopt clearly defined rules of behaviour so that both the police and the demonstrators know well beforehand.

This way the police will behave in a manner that no one will blame them for and the people taking part in demos and marches will know what the police response will be, depending on their behaviour.

I have discussed this many times over with various officials and it is high time we do something about it, before we witness again clashes among the police and demonstrators.

It’s nice, it’s simple and it works!

 

Charalampos Theopemptou is president of the Cyprus Green Party

 

 

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