Thu, 15 Oct 2020 © Honi Soit
University of Sydney Prof Simon Rice says he was trying to move past a protest when he was pushed to the ground by police with ‘disproportionate force' on Wednesday.
A University of Sydney law professor, who was observing a student protest on Wednesday as part of research into protest law, was thrown to the ground by police, then arrested and fined.
Prof Simon Rice said he was not participating in the protest and was trying to move past it when he was pushed to the ground by police with "disproportionate force".
Multiple students and staff were arrested at the university as hundreds protested the government's changes to higher education, university funding cuts and job losses.
Previous protests at the university have also been disrupted by police with arrests made.
Footage captured by the university's student newspaper, Honi Soit, showed Rice being pushed to the ground by police, and another student thrown to the ground.
"I have been running an extracurricular volunteer law firm research project," Rice told Guardian Australia. "I have a bunch of students who are working on reforming protest laws. I told them there is a protest today and you may want to watch. I also chose to watch.
"The footage shows from a distance them pushing me down. That is actually the second time, they had kicked my legs out from under me and that was me trying to get up again, then they pushed me down."
Rice, who is the University of Sydney's Kim Santow chair in law and social justice, said he was trying to walk around the protest when he was arrested.
"The only way I could get out was to walk through to Parramatta Road, then when I walked past the police they made a move," he said.
"It was violent without causing any particular harm. Disproportionate force, completely unjustified."
A separate video showed another police officer pushing Shovan Bhattarai, a student from the University of New South Wales, to the ground.
Bhattarai, who was not arrested or fined, told Guardian Australia she now had "a deep graze" on her arm and "bruises" up the side of her body.
"We were trying to cross the road as part of the rally march when police violently grabbed us, tried to kettle us in, and aggressively accosted some of us," she said.
"They threw me into the gutter and violently arrested and detained some others ...This is the violent response NSW police dish out to staff and students taking a stand against education cuts. Me and thousands of other students around the country will not be intimidated by these attacks."
Rice said he had been arrested and fined $1,000 for breaching the Covid-19 health restrictions.
Under the NSW Covid-19 restrictions, groups of separate people can be considered as one gathering if they are gathering for a "common purpose".
"The police have this idea of common purpose," Rice said. "I was not part of any group, I was on my own. I was walking through a large group, I was not gathering. I do not accept that I was in breach of the order.
"I was standing apart from it, I was standing closer to the police than the students most of the time."
The academic said it was the first time this year that he had been present at one of the university's many protests.
Prior to Wednesday, more than $43,000 in fines had been issued by police to university protestors, according to Liam Donohoe, the president of the university's Students' Representative Council.
A University of Sydney spokeswoman said the university would be raising "serious concerns" with NSW police over its response.
"We are very disturbed by the footage we've seen of today's events," she said.
"We encourage anyone who thinks that they were treated poorly by the police to lay a complaint.
"We have not heard back from NSW police following our previous attempts to discuss their response to recent protests on campus. We will contact them again as a matter of urgency and express our serious concerns. We will also reiterate our offer to discuss different approaches that might avoid similar situations occurring at future events."
The university said it "strongly defends" freedom of speech and the right to protest.
"We did not invite NSW police on to campus today," the spokeswoman said. "NSW police did contact us once ahead of the event and twice during it. We confirmed we were aware activity was planned, based on social media. We provided no further information or judgment about the activities and did not make any requests."
Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, who is the party's higher education spokesperson, said students were "rightfully outraged by what is happening to our universities".
"They have the right to express their views without being subject to violence or intimidation," she said. "NSW police are clearly feeling emboldened at the moment and they went after students and university staff today. It's incredibly disturbing stuff. Even bystanders weren't spared."
Comment has been sought from NSW police.
Comment: Nothing to see here... Just Australia turning into a complete authoritarian nightmare.