The acquittal at Sheffield Crown Court of ten Asian men accused of violent disorder is a victory for anti-fascists everywhere.
The men were arrested along with two others following their involvement in an anti-fascist protest in Rotherham in September 2015.
In the aftermath of the Rotherham child abuse scandal, the town had become a target for fascist groups, who were escorted by police in a series of provocative marches in the town.
The jury at Sheffield Crown Court heard that while members of Rotherham’s Muslim community had largely chosen to ignore the far-right marches, following the racist murder of 81-year old Mushin Ahmed, who suffered a brutal attack as he walked to mosque for morning prayers, the community organised a peaceful counter-demonstration.
When the protest came to an end, the anti-racist group were directed by police past a local pub known to be associated with the far-right. They were attacked by fascists and were forced to defend themselves.
Following a six-week trial, the jury accepted the defence argument that the men were acting in self-defence and returned unanimous not guilty verdicts.
The Rotherham 12 case triggered a national campaign in support of the arrested men. Adopting the slogan “Self Defence is No Offence”, the campaign was backed by the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, whose members went along to the trial to show support.
The Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign has stressed the parallels between their experiences and the treatment of the miners at Orgreave. In the words of one of the acquitted men, “There are similarities with what the police did to the Orgreave miners, and how they herded them to a particular spot… I had a bin thrown at me, punches thrown at me and I had literally done nothing. Now you imagine five weeks later, at six or seven in the morning, police officers, ten of them, coming to your house. Your children are scared, you’re scared, you’re treated as some common criminal.”
The arrests came on the back of a failure by South Yorkshire Police to respond to an upsurge in racist violence in Rotherham, leading to a boycott of South Yorkshire Police by local Muslim groups. In a public statement following the verdicts, the Rotherham 12 Defence Campaign said that South Yorkshire Police had “led the local community towards danger and left them unprotected”.
The campaign has called for an independent inquiry into the conduct and behaviour of South Yorkshire Police, noting that public confidence in the force “is at an all time low”.