By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Lower Ormeau residents’ spokesperson Gerard Rice and eight other protesters appeared last week before Belfast Magistrates Court charged with offenses ranging from assaulting RUC men to disorderly conduct and causing an obstruction.
The charges arise from the disturbances that preceded the Aug. 14 Apprentice Boys march on the Ormeau Road. Rice, 37, was charged with hindering the passage of a parade and with disorderly behavior. Two of the protesters were charged with assaulting police officers. All nine denied the charges.
Rice’s lawyer, Padraigin Drinan, said that the RUC had admitted the only evidence against him is police video footage that shows him leading a chant of "What do we want? Civil rights. When do we want them? Now."
Rice said the charges are a form of police harassment meant to silence nationalist residents. He said the charges sent a clear message to the Garvaghy Road residents and the Orange Order that a parade would be allowed there before long.
All nine defendants were granted bail and are due to reappear before the court on the Oct. 15. Joe McVeigh, of Madden and Finucane solicitors, who appeared for five of the nine, told the court that each formally complained at the "brutal manner" of the police, in the way they "forced this parade through in contravention of their most basic human rights."
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Outside the court Rice said that he, too, would be making a complaint against the RUC arising out of his early-morning arrest. The RUC had tried to take him from his home undressed, he said.
Rice was released from RUC custody after six and a half hours. He said that during questioning he was shown the video footage of himself. When the charge was put to him, he said: "To be charged for disorder for making a request for civil rights and equality is a nonsense."
The Irish government has expressed concern at the charges. The Department of Foreign Affairs said its views had been expressed to the British Government through the Belfast-based secretariat set up under the Anglo-Irish Agreement.