24th Nov 2017
Five Christian peace activists have been found guilty of entering the top-secret Pine Gap defence facility near Alice Springs.
Timothy Webb, Andrew Paine, Margaret Pestorius, Franz Dowling and James Dowling entered Pine Gap, which is jointly run by Australia and the United States of America, on September 29, 2016.
All five admitted to climbing through a 1.2 metre-high perimeter fence which marks the prohibited area of the facility.
Paine was also found guilty on a separate charge of taking a recording device on the base – a charge which potentially carries two years in jail.
He was using an iPhone to live stream the crime on Facebook.
The group told the court they went to sing a lament which several members of the group had composed in memory of people they believed had been killed by US drone strikes, with help from Pine Gap.
They were not allowed to argue possible defences of responding to an extraordinary emergency and acting in defence of another, after Justice John Reeves ruled them out.
That meant the jury only had to decide whether they had entered Pine Gap and were aware it was a prohibited area.
During their trial, the protesters said they had tried to disrupt activities at the base in an effort to save lives from US drone strikes.
The guilty activists called Professor Richard Tanter as an expert witness in their defence.
He told the jury Pine Gap was “an essential part” of US Government drone strikes.
“I do not think [the drone strike program] could operate at anything like the level it does [without Pine Gap] and therefore if it was not there the effects we are seeing in countries in which we are not at war, for example Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, would not be so great,” Professor Tanter said.
There was no indication as to when they will be sentenced, with seven years in prison the maximum possible.
The verdict came after another protester, Paul Christie, was found guilty in a separate trial of the same charge.
He is expected to be sentenced this afternoon.