The following is the text of an open letter to Australia’s Attorney General, from Close Pine Gap. It supports a group of Australian Christians facing up to 7 years jail, for entering the Pine Gap American military base near Alice Springs. Those who have signed see the arrests and charges an attack on the fundamental rights of all Australians. If you wish to sign the letter, you can do so through this link.
We seek your urgent intervention to protect the right to freedom of speech, expression, political communication and of religion for six Australian citizens who face up to seven years in jail for a peaceful protest in which they were praying and playing musical instruments.
In September 2016, several hundred Australians of diverse ages, professions and creeds gathered in Alice Springs to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pine Gap Agreement.
As part of the peaceful protests near the facility, five Christians prayed and played a musical lament, regarding the role of Pine Gap in war-fighting in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria. They were arrested.
The peaceful and symbolic ceremonies conducted by Margaret Pestorius, Tim Webb, Franz Dowling, Andrew Paine, Jim Dowling, as well as Paul Christie (arrested in a separate incident), were intended to bear witness to the death and suffering of civilians as a result of United States military operations, including drone assassinations, facilitated by surveillance conducted at Pine Gap.
Since their peaceful protests, more evidence has emerged detailing the role of Pine Gap in the activities that concerned the Peace Pilgrims. It implicates Australia in extrajudicial drone assassinations in countries with which we are not at war, in nuclear weapons targeting and in illegal mass surveillance.
Three months after the protest, you authorised the prosecution of these concerned citizens for ‘unlawful entry’ under the Defence Special Undertakings Act 1952 (Cth).
That legislation was drafted at the height of the Cold War to secure areas for British nuclear testing, and it permits prosecutions to be held in secret, and for records of hearings to be destroyed, imposing penalties of up to $42,000 and 7 years in jail.
This prosecution occurs as Australia prepares to serve on the UN Human Rights Council and when UN Rapporteurs have criticised policies, laws and actions of your government that undermine freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to protest. These are fundamental civil rights, and they are profoundly important when governments are engaged in the sort of conduct which Pine Gap facilitates.
Five of the defendants are devout Christians. Their faith impelled them to give voice to the teachings of peace and love for humanity and creation found in the Bible.
In this case, where Australian citizens were doing no more than praying and peacefully expressing dissent, prosecuting them is not only grossly inappropriate but a shocking waste of court resources.
We, the undersigned, urge you to exercise your discretion to direct this punitive, disproportionate and expensive prosecution be discontinued before the matter comes to court in Alice Springs on 13 November 2017.
- Jennifer Robinson, human rights lawyer, Doughty Street Chambers
- Ben Oquist, Executive Director, The Australia Institute
- Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and author
- Alex Kelly, documentary filmmaker
- Melinda Taylor, international criminal lawyer
- Rebecca Peters AO
- Julian Burnside AO QC
- Scott Ludlam, writer, graphic designer, activist
- Asher Wolf, journalist, Cryptoparty founder
- Dr Giordano Nanni, founder Juice Media
- Kellie Tranter, lawyer and human rights activist
- Benedict Coyne, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
- Anthony Kelly, Executive Officer, Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc.
- Dr Helen Caldicott, President, Beyond Nuclear
- Professor Brian Martin, University of Wollongong
- John Pilger, journalist and filmmaker
- Mark Zirnsak, Director, Justice & International Mission, Uniting Church
- Elizabeth O’Shea, lawyer
- Professor Tilman Ruff AM
- Father Peter Maher OAM
- Archie Law, Chair, Sydney Peace Foundation
- Tim Lo Surdo, founding director, Democracy in Colour
- Richard Tanter, Honorary Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne
- Emeritus Professor Joseph A. Camilleri OAM
- Paddy Manning, journalist
- Dr Sue Wareham OAM
- Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees AM, University of Sydney
- Annette Brownlie, Chairperson IPAN
- Romina Beistseen, Secretary CICD
- Helen Razer, writer and broadcaster
- Professor Robert Moody, Melbourne University
- Shirley Winton, Spirit of Eureka (Victoria)
- Jeff Sparrow, writer, editor and broadcaster
- Dr Margaret Beavis, Immediate Past President, Medical Association for Prevention of War
- Andrew Farran, international lawyer
- Dr. Alison Broinowski, writer and former Australian diplomat
- Father John Pettit OCSO
- Chas Licciardello, writer, comedian, broadcaster
- John Menadue AO, businessperson and former Australian diplomat
- Cam Walker, National Liaison Officer, Friends of the Earth
- Rob Stary, criminal defence lawyer, Adjunct Professor of Law Victoria University
- Bernard Keane, Politics Editor, Crikey
- Brett Dean, Composer, Viola player
- Professor Peter Norden AO, Fellow, Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology
- Dr Tim Sherratt, University of Canberra
- Chris Drummond, Theatre Director
- Paul Barratt, Former Secretary, Dep’t of Defence, President, Australians for War Powers Reform
- Donna Mulhearn, writer and activist
- Harold Wilkinson, Quaker Peace and Australian Women Victoria
- Professor Mary Heath, Flinders University
- Dr. Peter Burdon, Associate Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide
- Dr Sal Humphreys, Media Studies, University of Adelaide
- Tim Singleton Norton, Chair, Digital Rights Watch
- Greg Barns , Barrister, Former National President Australian Lawyers Alliance
- Richard Broinowski, President, AIIA NSW
- Associate Professor Debra King, Sociology, Flinders University
- Denis Doherty, national co-ordinator, Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition
- Dr Hannah Middleton, peace and justice activist
- Mary Kostakidis, journalist
- Frank Moorehouse AM, writer
- Roger Clarke, UNSW, ANU, Australian Privacy Foundation
- Amanda Tattersall, Host, ChangeMakers
- Tim Hollo, Executive Director, the Green Institute
- Senator Richard Di Natale, Leader of the Australian Greens and Senator for Victoria
- Adam Bandt MP, Acting Co-Deputy Leader, Australian Greens and Federal Member for Melbourne
- Senator Janet Rice, Senator for Victoria
- Senator Lee Rhiannon, Senator for NSW
- Senator Rachel Siewert, Acting Co-deputy Leader Australian Greens, Senator for Western Australia
- Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, Senator for Tasmania
- Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Senator for South Australia
- David Pledger, artist, curator
- Jo Vallentine, People for Nuclear Disarmament, W.A.
- Rob Pyne MP, Independent Member for Cairns