By Bethany English
The trials of five Unite against Fascism protesters, arrested at a demonstration against the English Defence League in Bolton in March, will begin today.
The first defendant will appear at Bolton Magistrates Court with the other cases being heard on October 5, 11, and 20, and November 4.
The protest on March 20 was attended by approximately 1,500 UAF and 2,000 EDL demonstrators.
Seventy-four people were initially taken into custody including at least 55 from the UAF and 9 from the EDL.
Justice4Bolton, who claim the police were ‘heavy handed’, are campaigning for the charges to be dropped. They have organised a show of solidarity outside the courthouse at 9.30am on Monday.
A spokesperson for Justice4Bolton said: “What emerges is a picture of a determined attempt to criminalise and brutalise those who protested against fascism and racism.
“We call on every anti-fascist and anti-racist to stand up against such oppressive tactics. We must make clear that opposing fascism and racism is not a crime.”
The English Defence League is a far-right group which aims to oppose the spread of Islamism, Sharia law and Islamic extremism in England. They have clashed with anti-fascism protesters in several cities around England since 2009.
Greater Manchester Police condemned the violence in the wake of the protests.
Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: “We have seen some small evidence of this protest in the form of flag waving and vitriolic name calling – but we have also seen groups of people, predominantly associated with the UAF, engaging in violent confrontation.
“It is clear to me that a large number attended with the sole intention of committing disorder and their actions have been wholly unacceptable.
“Turning their anger onto police officers they acted with, at times, extreme violence and their actions led to injuries to police officers, protestors and members of the public.”
Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton attended the protest on March 20.
He said “I did not see or hear any activity amongst the protestors that I would have described as ‘violent disorder’, though there were some police officers who, in my view, were being heavy-handed in some cases.”
Justice4Bolton are calling for anyone who witnessed incidents at the event on March 20 to contact [email protected]