Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Text messages lead to charges in recent Sydney race riots


Police have charged a man with sending offensive text messages inciting violence linked to Syd-ney's recent race riots, detectives said yesterday.

The 33-year-old man -- the first to be charged under federal law for sending messages linked to the unrest via cellphone -- faces a maximum three-year sentence if convicted.

Police said they expect to arrest more people who wrote or forwarded such messages in the coming days.

Police said in a statement that the suspect forwarded two messages to several people calling for them to meet at two south-ern Sydney beaches last Sunday -- a week after thousands of white Australians rioted there, attacking men of Middle Eastern appearance.

The statement did not include the exact wording of the messages, and did not identify the suspect.

The suspect was scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 1.

Police say a blizzard of cellphone text messages was sent in the days before the Dec. 11 riot, urging people to mass at Sydney's Cronulla beach to protest the beating a week earlier of two volunteer life savers. The protest erupted into a race riot and sparked two nights of retaliatory attacks by youths of Middle Eastern appearance, also spurred by text messages.

In the days after the violence, more messages circulated in Sydney and other Australian cities urging violence on Dec. 18.

Police Commander Dennis Bray told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio that detectives and phone companies were trying to trace the texts.

"We've been working in the last week in gathering and anal-yzing information we've obtained from the carriers and this fellow was identified as one fellow that had been sending messages and we've acted," he said.

"There will be more," he said.

David Bernie, vice president of the New South Wales state Council for Civil Liberties, said his group is worried at new police powers to confiscate phones.

"We are concerned about the move towards simply police being able to seize people's phones and check their messages without a warrant or some other basis for doing it," he said.

"Any interception of communications should really be done by a search warrant," Bernie said.

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