The Guardian March 29, 2000


East Timor Activists Face Court in ACT

by Dr Hannah Middleton

Four activists faced court in Canberra on March 24 charged with trespassing 
on Commonwealth premises and damaging Commonwealth property. On September 
10 last year they had climbed above the main public entrance to Parliament 
House and unfurled a black banner reading "Shame" to protest against 
Government inaction over the situation in East Timor. The words "Shame 
Australia shame" were also spraypainted on Parliament House.

In their defence, Gareth Smith, Robert Samsa, Jacob Grech and Mark Gwynneth 
presented evidence about the situation in East Timor. They spoke movingly 
of their sense of anguish and guilt about the killings and the desperate 
urgency to get the Australian Government to send troops in to save lives. 
Gareth Smith, who worked as a United Nations volunteer preparing for and 
conducting the referendum on independence for East Timor, told magistrate 
Karen Fryer: "I will never forget the terrible wailing of the women which 
followed each salvo of bullets."

The Commonwealth is claiming $16,000 for damage and the clean up in the 
charges against Gareth Smith who told the court that the painting was a 
spur of the moment decision.

He saw a group of school children below in Parliament House and they 
reminded him of the children he had left behind who were being killed in 
East Timor.

"When I wrote on the white marble walls 'Shame Australia shame' I was 
telling the truth and fulfilling my promise to the people I left behind in 
East Timor. As I left with tears streaming down my face, they said, `Please 
Mr. Gareth, do everything to get the peacekeepers here'," he told the 
court.

"Parliament House is a house of shame where decisions disastrous for the 
well being of the East Timorese have been repeatedly made," he said after 
the hearing.

"Mr. Downer is lying through his teeth when he says he did not know what 
was going to happen after the August 30 ballot.

"Even little kids knew. They would draw their hands across their throats 
and then loll their heads to one side like decapitated chooks.

"The UN assured their terrified parents that UNAMET would stay in East 
Timor and then it abandoned them to the 'safekeeping' of the Indonesian 
military and their militia mates, the very ones who have killed one third 
of the population, raped, tortured and forcibly sterilised hundreds of 
women," Gareth Smith said.

The four activists, who pleaded not guilty, were defended by leading Sydney 
QC Brian Donovan and international law specialist barrister Joe Gerstens. 
Magistrate Fryer will announce her decision on April 12.

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