On 5 March five Christian activists-Cully, Jim, Christel, Andy and Sean, appeared in Brisbane Magistrate Court to face charges of “causing a public nuisance” and “disobeying a police direction without a reasonable excuse.” These charges arose from a civil disobedience action on 7 October last year outside Gallipoli Barracks in Brisbane, to make the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Gallipoli Barracks is one of Australia’s largest bases, from where the most troops have been deployed to Afghanistan.
Successive Australian Governments have fully supported the war, repeatedly arguing that we ‘are bringing security to the Afghani people’, ‘we will stay the course’ and ‘we will not cut and run’. Sadly there has been little public resistance to this stand.
However on the 7th October, 25 people gathered at the front gates of the base for a moving prayer ceremony. During the ceremony five people knelt and prayed on the roadway and blocked traffic for 30-40 minutes. Army vehicles, staff, and contractors’ vehicles banked up as the five, holding photographs of civilian casualties, recited the names of the dead along with those on the footpath. The five were arrested after repeatedly refusing to move.
In court this week, the prosecutor attempted to dismiss the group’s actions as having no justification. He focussed upon the group’s refusal to follow a police direction. In cross examination police and army witnesses all denied hearing or understanding what the protesters were saying in relation to the suffering brought upon the people of Afghanistan by a war that had raged for 10 years. In countering, the 5 argued that there was ‘reasonable excuse’. They spoke of their own personal journeys, being moved by the growing suffering of the Afghani people and the Australian government’s complicity through its military involvement.
They argued strongly that the only crime being committed was that by the base and those defending it. The war being waged was illegal under the Nuremberg principles and Australia’s own criminal Code relating to war crimes. Focus was brought upon the Australian military’s participation in kill/capture operations that have resulted in many deaths of non-combatants, including on one occasion 5 children. No soldiers have been brought to account for these deaths. On other occasions deliberately false information has been provided to settle personal scores and have opponents killed.
The prosecutor repeatedly accused the group of wasting police resources and money. In countering we pointed out that the Australian government is spending $1 billion per year on this illegal war whilst Afghani children are dying of the cold, and malnutrition is widespread partly because of disruption to agriculture caused by the war .Perversely the Australian government attempts to argue our role in Afghanistan is akin to international aid, and is somehow protecting us from terrorism.
In an amazing coincidence, while stopping for lunch someone produced a copy of the day’s Courier Mail, containing an article about Afghanistan. In it, Australia’s leading Defence Studies academic, Hugh White, was berating the government for fighting a failed war, and continually deceiving the Australian public in every way. Before court restarted Jim handed a copy to the prosecutor. Sean had emphasised strongly in his evidence that our government was lying to us about the war.
The final verdicts were as to be expected, however. The public nuisance charges were dismissed, based on definition and precedent. All, however, were found guilty of disobeying a police direction. Not content with any punishment she was about to dish out, Ms Cull proceeded to harangue the group about the futility of their action and the waste of police resources. All listened patiently.
Sentences were as follows
Christel- $300 good behaviour bond, with no conviction recorded
Cully- $125 fine and conviction recorded
Sean-$250 fine and no conviction recorded
Andy-$500 fine and conviction recorded.
Jim – 3 weeks in prison, suspended for 8 months on the condition of not re-offending
All left the court in good spirits, knowing the one thing more “futile” than nonviolent resistance was the continued waging of terrorist wars. Remember, to resist is to win!
Meanwhile the Australian government stumbles along, mimicking the US government’s position on the war, and waiting to be told what to do by its master. Lack of public support seems to have little impact on it (latest polls show over 70% want to end our involvement now). Australian troops will stay until the US government tells us it’s alright to leave. The suffering of the Afghani people continues. The need for us to stand with them in saying no to war also continues.
In the words of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, ‘Know where you stand and stand there!‘