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Victory in court for Stop the Afghan War peace protestors – followed by nine more arrests
Four peace protestors the “Bonhoeffer 4” who trespassed on and successfully shut down for a day, the secretive Swan Island military base on March 31st have had their charges dismissed by a Geelong Magistrate. Despite pleading guilty to trespass, the Magistrate chose to use a little known provision of the crimes act which allowed him to dismiss the charges altogether! Forty protestors soon after returned to the gates of the base for a further protest calling for Australian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan and nine people who refused to move were arrested for hindering police. Read below an account of the day by Jessica Morrison, one of the Bonhoeffer 4 members.
REFLECTIONS OF JESSICA MORRISON ON THE COURT AND SUBSEQUENT PROTEST ON JUNE 16TH 2010
The sun was rising over the city as I set out from home. The walk through Exhibition gardens provided a space for centering and reflection on the day to come - facing court for a previous action, and helping facilitate another one. Cat Stevens may not have been pleased with my rendition of Morning Has Broken, but the possums didn't seem to mind!
I shared a car to Geelong with friends who have all been a part of my exploring nonviolent activism.
People began to converge in the park opposite the Geelong courthouse and when we started our morning circle we had 30 people gathered. We acknowledged that we were on the land of the Watharong people, and honored the elders and the struggle for justice for Indigenous people. After some silence, Simon Moyle read a quote from Thomas Merton (part of which is at http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/38593) encouraging us to be faithful, and not focus too much on results. Simon Reeves read the Lyrics of the John Bulter Trio song (mmmm bugger, which was it!?). I shared the Bible story that had inspired our action - Jesus entering Jerusalem, weeping for them that they would know what would bring peace - then entering the tables and blocking people moving in and out. Jacob then led us in the Lord's prayer.
More people joined as we walked silently to the courtroom, swelling the numbers to over 50. Some vigiled and leafleted outside, while others joined us inside. It was a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by such support. There were family, church friends and leaders, local Geelong activists as well as people who'd traveled interstate. Some (like the bevy of fathers present) might not have even agreed with our actions, but chose to come along in support. The rest of the seats in the courtroom were filled by a school group, and some others who were also facing court that day.
We were surprisingly called up as the first case (later finding out the Court Coordinator scheduled us there to clear the court area - they wanted all these extras out of the way!), in front of Geelong's Chief Magistrate Mr Saines. We indicated that we were pleading guilty, not because we were feeling a sense of emotional guilt - but that we wanted to take full responsibility for our actions. The prosecution read the brief of evidence, which included the statement that the base has been closed for the day. My favorite bit however is when they talk about Simon M and I 'disappearing into the darkness'! The Magistrate found the charges proved, and we moved on to our sentencing statements. We all shared about our own lives, giving a context of people who give a shit about the world enough to do many things - including resisting war. We talked about Swan Island, the Afghan war, the history of Civil Disobedience and our faith.
The Magistrate then gave his verdict. He indicated that the debates about Afghanistan continue to go on, and that this is important. He warned us about using our faith as a justification for breaking the law, noting many awful things have been done in the name of 'a higher power' - and I thought his caution was well founded. He then referred to Section 19B of the Commonwealth Crimes Act, which gives a Magistrate the freedom to dismiss charges. He then stated that given the nature of the offending (the lowest sort of offending behaviour) and the character of those of us charged - he would dismiss the charges. We were flabbergasted! WOW - dismissed the charges....not even a slap on the wrist but an acknowledgment that, even though the facts are proven, that he wouldn't find us 'guilty'.
Our supporters spontaneously clapped the Magistrate.
The group made their way to Geelong Trades Hall where the locals generously hosted us (including putting the heaters on hours before - boy we were grateful!) and we shared our (mostly freegan) lunch.
Then we were off to Part 2 of the day - another action at the gates of Swan Island.
On arriving at Swan Island I got a sense of the breadth of our law enforcement bodies. There were uniformed Victorian Police, water police decked out in full gear, Local Laws officers, Special Interest Group members, and a swag of un-uniformed members.
The group, about 40 in number walked together for about 500 metres, where a roadblock had been established, to the gates of Swan Island. There we listened to words of Malalai Joya and Simon M shared the story of our first Swan Island action. People then chalked their messages on the road, and signed the 'I pushed the emergency stop button on the Afghan war' commemorative banner. Chip Henriss then talked from the perspective of an ex-soldier. My sister phoned from Afghanistan, where she shared her experiences of being an Aid worker. We then held a die in where we remembered the names of those who have died in this war - civilians and military. At the end of this time the police asked us all to move. 9 people stayed, and were arrested for hindering a police officer. They have been released at this stage with an indication they may receive a summons in due course.
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