Sande Ramage

New Zealand jury aquits Waihopai spy base Christian peace activists

By Sande Ramage
March 19, 2010

New Zealanders Sam Land, Adi Leason and Fr Peter Murnane who entered the Waihopai spy base in Blenheim on a Ploughshares non-violent direct action, have been found not guilty by a Wellington jury.

In April 2008, the Ploughshares Aotearoa Christian activists intended to shut down one of two satellite dishes, part of the United States Echelon global surveillance system, in the belief that the system causes immense human suffering.

As underfunded as David was when he faced the empire in the shape of Goliath, this mission also had chutzpah and moments of humour. The truck that was intended to take them over the security fence got stuck in a ditch, and as the men reached the electric fence, the bolt cutters were passed to Peter - as he said in evidence last week, he was the oldest of the three, had no family and so was more expendable. Sparks flew at the sixth wire but by then they were through and used their sickles to puncture the plastic dome covering one of the dishes.

Two years later the activists and their supporters have walked a unique Lenten journey through the court process. They relied on a ‘claim of right’ defence, and explained that they were acting in the honest belief that the greater good was served by doing something to disable the spy base. Information obtained via such bases is used for unspeakably evil acts such as torture and missile strikes.

The jury believed them but the New Zealand public may have a different view. In one online poll (, 76 per cent of the 5886 votes recorded at time of writing were opposed to ‘the greater good defence’ being acceptable in New Zealand courts. While peace groups still lobby for the Waihopai base to be closed, it may be a long time coming.

More: Ploughshares Aotearoa

With additional thanks to Peace Movement Aotearoa

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