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Posted on 7 October 2016 at 12:25 GMT

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice   (Click to enlarge)

Support the Rotherham 12

Alistair Tice

Chants of "The Rotherham 12 are innocent, Drop the charges now!" and "Self-defence is no offence" echoed outside Sheffield Crown Court today as a community-led protest showed support for the defendants, including solidarity from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

The trial of 12 Asian men, known as the Rotherham 12, started yesterday, Thursday 6 October. The charges relate to an incident which occurred during a far-right Britain First demonstration in Rotherham in September 2015. If they are found guilty they will face lengthy prison sentences. The 12 men have been charged with 'violent disorder' (re section 2.1 of the Public Order Act 1986). In addition to this, one of the defendants has also been charged with carrying an offensive weapon.

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice   (Click to enlarge)

But their real crime was simply to stand up to racial abuse and violence perpetrated by supporters of far-right groups who have invaded Rotherham at least 16 times over the last two years.

In 2014, Rotherham, in South Yorkshire, was rocked by the child-abuse grooming scandal. Although the perpetrators of these crimes included a small group of Asian men, unfortunately the whole community has faced stigmatisation. Far-right groups seized on this as an opportunity to parachute into the town to sow divisions and attack 'multiculturalism'.

That year, the Mirror reported: "the town has become a magnet for right-wing groups such as the English Defence League, Britain First and the British National Party". Over the last two years the far right have organised at least 16 intimidating demonstrations where "protesters have arrived in their hundreds, many wrapped in England flags and chanting anti-Muslim slogans".

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice

Rotherham 12 defence campaign, 6.10.16, photo by A Tice   (Click to enlarge)

Faced with this hostility during the demonstrations, the local Asian community lived in fear and were often forced to remain in their homes or close their businesses and community centres.

In August 2015, a Muslim grandfather, Mushin Ahmed, was killed during a racially motivated assault. His tragic and brutal death spurred the local Asian community to join a counter protest to the far right on 5 September 2015. On that day, a combination of poor policing and far-right provocation and violence led to incidents that resulted in the charging of the 12 men.

The trial raises important issues, including:

The Rotherham 12 supporters have conducted a marvellous campaign linking up their case with that of the Orgreave and Hillsborough campaigns and once again exposing the role of the South Yorkshire police as a political force used against working class communities and protest. They deserve our full support.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 7 October 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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