Christian peacemakers' victory in Australia inspires nonviolence activists

Christian peacemakers' victory in Australia inspires nonviolence activists

By staff writers
23 Jun 2010

Peace activists in Australia are continuing to put their bodies on the line in opposing their country's military involvement in Afghanistan, after Christian peacemakers scored an important moral victory.

Four peace protestors known as the 'Bonhoeffer 4', named after the German anti-Nazi theologian, were found not guilty in Australia last week after admitting trespass on a military base.

The four - the Rev Simon Moyle (Baptist minister), Jacob Bolton (community worker), Jessica Morrison (university lecturer) and Simon Reeves (social worker) - trespassed on, and successfully shut down for a day, the secretive Swan Island base on 31 March 2010.

They expected convictions for the offence, but after impressing a Geelong Magistrate they have had their charges dismissed.

Despite pleading guilty to trespass, the magistrate chose to use a little-known provision of the Commonwealth Crimes Act which allowed him to set the peace activists free - in what is being seen as a powerful symbolic and legal victory for opponents of militarism, and for radical Christians committed to nonviolent resistance.

Soon after the court case, forty protesters returned to the gates of the base for a further demonstration. They called for Australian troops to be pulled out of Afghanistan and nine people who refused to move were arrested for hindering police in the course of their duty.

Jessica Morrison, one of the Bonhoeffer 4, explained that when the magistrate gave his verdict, he indicated that important debates about Afghanistan continue to go on. She remarked: "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 [that] caution was well founded."

The magistrate then referred to Section 19B of the Commonwealth Crimes Act, which gives a freedom to dismiss charges. He stated that given the low-level nature of the offence and the character of those before him, he would not pursue a conviction.

Ms Morrison said that the group were "flabbergasted" and grateful that "even though the facts are proven, he wouldn't find us 'guilty'."

At the same time, nine other people were arrested at the gates to the Swan Island defence intelligence training base near Queenscliff in Victoria on 16 June.

The Afghanistan war is budgeted to cost Australian taxpayers a total of A$1.6 billion for the next year. The total military budget was $25.7 billion in 2009.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in Nazi Germany on 9 April 1945. He declared: “The followers of Christ have been called to peace. And they must not only have peace but also make it. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”

The Bonhoeffer Peace Collectives have a Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=95652832956&v=info&ref=ts

Furher development can be followed on Jarrod McKenna's twitter feed - http://twitter.com/jarrodmckenna

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