I wrote a piece on this blog last year about four Australian peace protestors being put on trial for entering the Pine Gap intelligence facility as part of a nonviolent protest (which I note attracted a much larger than usual number of comments from readers). Even though many people have been charged over the years with basic trespass offences as part of protests at Pine Gap, this time the federal government chose to charge them for unlawfully entering a prohibited area under the cold war era Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952 – the first people ever to be charged under this law.
The trial of this group has been going on in Alice Springs for the last two weeks. Read this website for commentary on the trial process from the defendants and their supporters. Today the jury returned a verdict of guilty. It appears they had little other choice, given the full admissions by the four protestors and no defence being available to them under the law.
Sentencing occurs tomorrow (Friday) around midday. As no one has ever been charged before under this Act, there is no precedent for sentencing, but the offences allow sentences of up to seven years. The Judge noted that many other protestors who had been found guilt of trespass in the past had received fines. However, the prosecution, under direction from the Australian government, urged the Judge to give a jail sentence to the protestors.
I suppose the government will try to tell us they are protecting us from terrorism by urging a Court to give a jail sentence to peace protestors who are obviously nonviolent and were completely open about their intent and actions.
It is interesting to contrast the guilty verdict in this trial, where the four defendants simply entered the facility and in some cases took photograps of themselves, with trials of similar nonviolent peace protests elsewhere.
Last month in the UK two British peace activists charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire on 18 March 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq received a unanimous not guilty verdict after two trials. This site has plenty of details.
Last year in Ireland, five protestors who entered the Shannon airforce base near Dublin in 2003 and disabled a US warplane which was refuelling on its way to Iraq were all found not guilty after three trials.
UPDATE: The judge decided to impose a sentence of fines for the four people totalling $3250.
UPDATE II – 22 Feb, 2008. A full bench of the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the convictions, ruling there had been a miscarraige of justice in the original trial.