Protesters face court
David Johnson and Jason MacLeod, Queensland Regional Meeting
Jason MacLeod and David Johnson were arrested on 31 May 2021 during a silent witness outside of the global arms manufacturer Thales, against the use of Thales weapons in the genocide in West Papua.
Both David and Jason pleaded guilty on 13 September in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, Jason by phone link, David in court. In truth we did civilly disobey the police orders to move on. In such a situation, invoking an emergency defence was not a viable option.
The barrister representing us had asked if we would accept a good behaviour bond. Jason replied: “No, my good behaviour was telling Thales they were doing wrong!” David replied: “No, I could not promise to undertake a bond, knowing if I was called to another action I would break that promise.”
The barrister’s submission rested on the low level, nonviolent nature of the offences, with no criminal damage and no inconvenience to the public. He drew attention to a case in British law reviewing the suffragettes which confirmed the right of nonviolent civil disobedience, for in hindsight it may be clear the law at the time was wrong, and the protestors right.
The magistrate accepted that submission, and also read from the case, that any civil protestor must be prepared to pay the penalty.
We accept that. Quakers have always accepted that. Civil disobedience rests on the protestor accepting that he or she will pay a cost in terms of bodily or financial pain. “I accept this cost to resist and display the wrong.”
David Says: “In the action and in the court case, truth carried us and truth increased.”
At the Court sentencing the magistrate recognised the nonviolent nature of the witness, that no damage was done, with both acting from a deep religious conscience. The barrister representing them also drew attention to the witness and civil disobedience of the suffragettes who campaigned for changes in the justice system.
Both received modest fines ($150 and $250), with no conviction recorded (this time!)
David Johnson’s Personal Statement.
For my adult life I have been opposed to violence and war, and since 1985 as a Quaker. With regard to the charges faced on 6/7/2021:
In the wisdom of the world, under the laws of Queensland, I refused a police officer’s direction.
Yet I am called to a Life in which there is no occasion for war, no occasion for violence.
It is a Life to be lived as were the first followers of Jesus, known as the People of the Way.
Yet this is the Way to peace and happiness, and the way out of war and violence. In that Life I am innocent.
I was called to visit the Thales office on 31st of 5th month 2021, with the intent to speak peacefully with the manager, and anyone who might care to listen, about my concern for the company’s activities in supporting violence and war. The company manufactures the means for violence and war, and is encouraged by profit motives to sell them.
When the company manager initially refused to engage I was moved to wait in worshipful silence there – for not uncommonly in my experience have people, realising there is no threat, been able to overcome their initial fears and talk freely. Before too long police were called and eventually ordered me to move. I was asked inwardly to remain in silent witness.
Why did I not move on? It is holy obedience.
It was to stand still as a witness and a sign that others might also come to stand still in the Inward Light which shows in the conscience of the heart what is righteous and what is evil.
The seeds of fear and greed are in us, the roots of violence and war are in our own culture.
- The desire for a major weapons export industry arises from an excessive and unholy desire for profit.
- Innocent lives pay the costs.
- The roots of the violence and genocide are in the workshops which make the weapons.
I feel no ill will in my heart towards either the company security guard, the company manager or the police and watch-house staff involved. We are all children of God.
Thales products are complicit in fostering the violent war in West Papua, a close neighbour of Australia. The West Papuans are suffering genocide as defined in three sections of the UN Geneva Convention on Genocide: innocent civilians, not combatants, are being killed; they are being removed from their ancestral lands or forced to flee; and their culture is being destroyed.
While I may be guilty of an offence of refusing a police officer’s instruction to move on, and of standing peacefully, mainly silently, outside the Thales office with no intent or move to enter their office or damage a gram of their property, the company Thales in West Papua is providing the means for contraventions of the UN Charter of Indigenous Rights, the UN Charter on Human Rights, and the 1949 UN Convention on Genocide.
Export is illegal in Australia because the Arms Trade Treaty Article 6 (ratified by Australia in December 2014), states that a State Party’s obligations are violated if a State Party has knowledge at the time of authorisation that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, or in attacks directed against civilians. While the Indonesian government has cut off internet communications to West Papua we have evidence that such contraventions of the ATT are happening.
My concern is
- for the West Papuan people,
- for the company workers – for such work is inherently damaging to the soul and one day each will feel deep remorse for it,
- for the people of Queensland and especially the political leaders and company proponents because worldly profit, electoral success and building a home-grown capability for violence and war has been chosen above morality and humanity.
Where are the espoused principles of the Queensland leaders for democracy and freedom? We know about the effects of genocide in this country – we are only now coming to terms with the English genocide of the Aboriginal peoples of this land.
The Australian and Queensland governments and companies are asked to agitate to:
1. Cease all export authorisations for Thales equipment, weaponry and munitions from Australia.
2. Stop the human rights abuses, violence and genocide in West Papua.
3, Remove and re-train the Indonesian military and police units involved in the genocide.
4. Agitate for the preservation of West Papuan culture within the tolerant principles of Indonesian pancisila.
David Johnson 7th month 6, 2021
Jason MacLeod’s Statement
My name is Jason Graeme McLeod. I work as a researcher, educator and organiser.
On 31 May 2021 I nonviolently blocked the doors of Thales, an arms company located at 17 Sugarmill Rd, Pinkenba. When asked to leave by a Thales manager and police, I politely refused to do so. When I was subsequently arrested by the police I acted in a nonviolent and respectful manner to all parties, including Thales, the police, and other members of the public assembled outside Thales. This statement briefly explains why I did what I did. I ask that the Magistrate take this into consideration when sentencing me.
I decided to block the doors at Thales and refusal to leave because Thales sells weapons, vehicles, and munitions to Indonesia. These arms are used against civilians in West Papua. I took nonviolent action because there are no viable conventional political mechanisms available to ordinary people to solve this problem.
I first went to West Papua in 1991. I have been travelling back and forth ever since. Before COVID I was visiting West Papua and Indonesia as many as five times a year. I have been invited by West Papuans to form a number of different organisations designed to strengthen the capacity of the nonviolent movement for human rights and democracy. One of those organisations is Make West Papua Safe which has been campaigning against Thales. Together with a West Papuan colleague I am a co-founder of that organisation.
I hold a doctorate in International Studies and have taught politics, civil resistance, and community development, at universities in Australia and overseas. In 2015 The University of Queensland Press published my book Merdeka and the Morning Star: civil resistance in West Papua, based on my PhD thesis about the nonviolent struggle for freedom and against the Indonesian state’s occupation of West Papua. As a result of being in relationship, and daily contact, with West Papuan human rights defenders, I am acutely aware of the political and human rights situation in West Papua.
Last year, in January 2020 I received distressing messages and photographs from human rights defenders in the Highlands of West Papua. My informants told me that several rockets had been fired from an Indonesian helicopter at civilians residing in a remote village in the Highlands. Witnesses reported houses and crops being destroyed. Incredibly one of these rockets failed to explode. I have seen the evidence of this rocket attack, including the unexploded ordnance. The attack is also consistent with ongoing and credible reports by Amnesty International Indonesia, Human Rights Watch Indonesia, TAPOL, International Coalition for Papua, and human rights organisations inside West Papua, including ELSHAM and PAHAM, of the ongoing war in Nduga, Intan Jaya and Puncak districts, in the West Papuan highlands.
In the weeks before I blocked the doors of Thales, my colleagues and I traced the rockets back to a Thales factory in Belgium. In the weeks after my arrest we have since discovered that in 2014 the Indonesian government purchased 12 Airbus/Eurocopeter Fennec helicopters, fitted with what I believe are rocket launchers equipped to launch Thales /FZ68 rockets, the same rockets that exploded in Ugimba village in January 2020. We also discovered that Bushmaster combat vehicles sold to Pindad, a state-owned arms company in Indonesia, are rebranded as Sanca but made under licence by Thales. The Bushmaster vehicles are manufactured in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia. Dozens of these vehicles were visible at the factory in Pinkenba on 31 May 2021.
We have tried talking to Thales but dialogue has, so far, failed. Despite this we will continue to try to talk to Thales. Our nonviolent action, this court case and the media around the court case, are a continuation of our attempts at, and commitment to, dialogue. For more than twenty years we have also been meeting with politicians, diplomats, and senior public servants. In fact, on 5 July 2021, Make West Papua Safe briefed Federal Members of Parliament about the human rights situation in West Papua.
I am acutely aware of the failure of conventional politics to address this problem. The Australian government, for instance, is a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty. Under the terms of the ATT, states are not meant to sell or transfer weapons where there is a chance these could be used to facilitate crimes and human rights abuses. Article Six of the Treaty specifies when a state should deny permission for an arms sale, including when a state has knowledge of “crimes against humanity” and “attacks directed against civilians”. These are all situations which have routinely occurred in West Papua for decades. The West Papua Council of Churches even goes as far as saying genocide is occurring against the Nduga people and others indigenous peoples in the Highlands. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) suggests that such weapons sales violate both the Geneva Conventions and international human rights laws:
Under the Geneva Conventions and customary IHL (International Humanitarian Law), all States have an obligation to ensure respect for IHL. The ICRC takes the view that this entails a responsibility to make every effort to ensure that the arms and ammunition they transfer do not end up in the hands of persons who are likely to use them to violate IHL. The ATT reflects this responsibility in two ways. First, it prohibits a State from transferring conventional arms, as well as parts, components and ammunition for them, if it knows that they would be used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or certain war crimes. Second, even where a State does not have such knowledge, the ATT requires it to a) assess the potential that a serious violation of IHL or international human rights law could be facilitated or committed with the arms or items to be exported, and b) not authorise the export of the items in question when there is an overriding risk of these violations happening.
At the time of my arrest I was requesting the police investigate the role of Thales acting in possible breach of Australia’s obligations under the ATT in relation to the sale of arms to Indonesia which have been used against West Papuan citizens. Unfortunately, the Australian government, has made no move to ban weapons sales to Indonesia. Moreover, there is no indication or expectation that they will do so. Since 2006, the Australian government, and the opposition, have been silent when it comes to finding nonviolent solutions to addressing the root political causes of conflict in West Papua. Liberal National Party and the Australian Labor Party politicians routinely cite the Lombok Treaty, which has become the Indonesian government’s gag order for Australian politicians concerned about the plight of West Papuans, as the reason why they won’t comment about Indonesian state violence in West Papua.
West Papuans are my neighbours. They are friends, they are family, and they are colleagues. I have worked alongside West Papuans for more than thirty years. The simple and inescapable fact is that when Thales’ weapons and vehicles arrive in West Papua they are used to harm, and in some instances, kill West Papuans. Given the failure of dialogue and given the failure of conventional political processes to protect our neighbours, I have no other choice but to engage in determined, disciplined, and strategic nonviolent action to prevent further violence by people using weapons, vehicles and munitions made by Thales. It is vital we stand up for West Papua like we did for East Timor.
Your Honour, the courts and community take a dim view of those who perpetrate violence. I share that view. I suggest that the violent actions, or actions that condone or enable violence by public and private institutions also need to be countered, condemned and constrained. I willingly submit to the court’s decision on sentencing because I believe that civil institutions and legal processes can serve the common good.
Jason McLeod, 29 June 2021
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