Why I am Prepared to go to Jail


In August last year ten nonviolent human rights activists from the group "Journey of Peace" walked 76 km. from Brisbane to Canungra over four days to establish the Office of Conscientious Objection inside the School of Military Intelligence at the Canungra Land Warfare Centre (C.L.W.C.) on the Gold Coast hinterland. After a weekend of celebration, community building and education, a group of more than 100 people gathered outside the main gates of the C.L.W.C. Police arrested nine activists as they peacefully walked onto the base to encourage Australian soldiers to stop training and arming the Papuan New Guinea Defense Force and the Indonesian military.

Once trained at military bases like the Land Warfare Centre, these soldiers (often high-ranking officers) return to places like Bougainville, East Timor and West Papua where they use their new-found skills to more effectively control and oppress ordinary people just like you and me. Such oppression routinely includes the torture and extra-judicial killing of non-combatants.

The nine arrested were found guilty of trespass and failure to obey a police direction. Given the clear injustice of the training and the disciplined, nonviolent way in which the activists conducted themselves, the magistrate discharged those without previous convictions and declared that it was inexpedient to punish them. The remaining three activists had previous convictions for similar actions and were ordered by the court to pay fines of $100 or $150 or face two or three days jail in default. In her final submissions to the court the magistrate stated that many Australians are proud of those who, while technically breaking the law, did so to bring about greater social change. She cited the suffragettes as an example.

After more than ten years of nonviolent action at the C.L.W.C. and other military bases around the country, the demand to stop the training and arming of Indonesian troops (especially) is gathering strength. On December 7th, 1997 nineteen activists from a wide cross-section of the community (including a Catholic priest, youth worker, Professor of Ethics and Uniting Church Minister, former senator, students, a small business operator, lawyer and ex-Major of the Australian Army previously trained at the Land Warfare Centre) were arrested at the base in a similar but larger action than the August action. They go to trial at the Brisbane Magistrates Court on May 12, 1998.

As Australians continue to awaken to the cry of people in East Timor, Indonesia, West Papua and Bougainville and as the Government continues to support the Indonesian military, actions like the ones at C.L.W.C. on August 17 and December 7 1997 certainly promise to continue.

Open letter to the Registrar of Beaudesert Magistrates Court and Magistrate Ms. Cornack, SM.

I want to express my sincere thanks to the court officers of the Beaudesert Magistrates Court in general and the Magistrate, Ms Cornack SM, in particular, for the way in which you listened to us in court and for what I felt was your obvious humanity and compassion towards the people of East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville. The fact that the Magistrate, the Police and other court officials treated myself and my fellow activists with such respect reaffirms my conviction that we can all in some way play a positive part in the struggle for a peaceful, just and sustainable world, regardless of our role or position in society.

I received Form 17 from the Registrar of the Beaudesert Magistrates court dated 30 January 1998 informing me that time to pay my $100 fine elapsed fifteen business days from the date of that letter. Without implying any disrespect of the law whatsoever or lack or appreciation for the considerable leniency the Magistrate showed us in the words she spoke during her final submission and in the sentences she gave, I want to inform you that I will not be paying the fine imposed by the court. Instead I am willing to go to jail for what I believe.

I have six reasons for this. I would like to take this opportunity to share them with you.

Firstly, I am willing to go to jail over this, to share the burden of the struggle for self-determination with East Timorese, West Papuan and Bougainvillian activists, who are, have been and will be persecuted for their political beliefs and nonviolent actions.

Secondly, to consciously use jail as a time to do penance for Australia's (and therefore) my complicity and silence in relation to my neighbors' suffering and to pray that we may all come to act in loving solidarity with our neighbors.

Thirdly, to deepen my commitment to nonviolent social change by trying (with God's grace) to overcome my fear of punishment for living what I believe.

Fourthly, to further inspire others to consider nonviolent direct action and the possible consequences of arrest, court, fines and perhaps even jail as legitimate, honorable and historically powerful and effective means in the struggle for peace with justice.

Fifthly, to further draw attention to the plight of the peoples of East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville by using my very small amount of jail time to try and gain favorable media coverage for their struggle.

Finally, to demonstrate that I am willing to accept the "cost" of my actions rather than make others suffer.

It appears clear to me that Australia's military cooperation with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea (P.N.G.) makes possible further killing and suffering of East Timorese, West Papuans and Bougainvillians by the Indonesian military and P.N.G. Defense Force in what are unwinnable and largely brutal occupations against our geo-political neighbors. Quite simply, successive Australian Governments have the blood of our neighbors on their hands. For how long will the Australian Government blatantly oppress others? How many of its own citizens who nonviolently object to training and arming a brutal military regime is the Government willing to jail?

When we peacefully trespassed onto the Canungra Land Warfare Centre (C.L.W.C.) last August to establish the Office for Conscientious Objection we did not expect an immediate end to the training and arming of Indonesian and P.N.G. troops. Rather we trespassed onto the C.L.W.C. because the existing political, legal and economic framwork has failed people like the East Timorese. A new framework to resolve this confict needs to be articulated and acted upon. I trespassed onto the base because given the activities of the C.L.W.C. and their consequences for the people of East Timor, West Papua, Bougainville (and also those many Indonesians who face military repression) I believe it is the right and humane thing to do.

We feel strongly that ordinary folk (like ourselves) are not only called to but can peacefully intervene in our Government's oppression. If we don't intervene, by our silence and inaction we sanction violence against others and diminish our own humanity.

I do not accept the Government's policy of aiding the Indonesian military (and for that matter any military). Whilst such a policy exists, as much as I can, not only will I not cooperate with it but I will nonviolently intervene in it and willingly accept the consequences until the present policy is transformed into a policy for peace.

If such action breaks the law, so be it. If I end up in jail, I accept that too. In all my actions I will continue to endeavor to act according to the principles of nonviolence.

As Ms Cornack SM would be aware, (from her extensive experience as a Magistrate) it is not an easy thing to go to jail and sadly I expect it will not be the last time I face the possibility of jail. It is not a decision I make lightly.

Despite this I am full of hope. Given the truth and justice of the struggle and the dignity and courage of our neighbors in the face of violence I will go to jail in the absolute belief that the people of East Timor, West Papua and Bougainville will one day be free. I would like to play a small part in that journey to the extent that I can. I believe that nonviolent action (including, when necessary, going to jail) is the most powerful and effective contribution I can make at this stage.

I write these things because I felt that the Magistrate, other court officials and the Police showed a genuine interest in not only what we did but why we acted in the way we did. I felt too, that the Magistrate wrestled greatly with her personal sympathy to the action on the one hand and her oath to the law on the other.

Please pass on my thanks (on behalf of the group) to the Magistrate for the respect and willingness to listen she freely gave us in court.

Jason McLeod