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.