An Australian human rights activist, who was arrested while protesting outside a major military weapons manufacturer, has justified his actions stating there are “no viable conventional political mechanisms” available to voice his concerns.
In May, Jason MacLeod, was arrested while blocking the doors of Thales, an international weapons producer with offices based in Brisbane.
“I decided to block the doors at Thales and refuse to leave because Thales sells weapons, vehicles, and munitions to Indonesia. These arms are used against civilians in West Papua,” Mr MacLeod said.
Earlier this year, Xenophon Davis reported on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in West Papua, as Indonesian military forces target civilians and journalists as part of a crackdown in the region. This included a rocket strike on a village in the Iliaga, which is alleged to have levelled homes and forced residents to flee into the surrounding jungles.
“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 helicopters, fitted with what I believe are rocket launchers equipped to launch Thales /FZ68 rockets.”
“We also discovered that Bushmaster combat vehicles sold to a state owned arms company in Indonesia… made under licence by Thales. The Bushmaster vehicles are manufactured in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia.”
The Australian Government is a signatory to the Arms Trade Treaty, which explicitly prohibits states from selling or transferring weapons when it is likely they could be used to facilitate crimes and human rights abuses.
This is one of the reasons behind Mr MacLeod protest against Thales.
“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.”
“The Arms Trade Treaty… 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.”
“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.”
Earlier this year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that protest can be a “lawful excuse” for deliberately disruptive behaviour – such as the actions of Mr MacLeod outside Thales offices.
Britain’s most senior judges said it was right to acquit a group of protesters who blockaded a military arms fair in London in 2017.
Under UK law, they said that protesters can have a “lawful excuse” defence against the offence of obstructing a highway, even where they have used “deliberately physically obstructive conduct”.
“There should be a certain degree of tolerance to disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, caused by the exercise of the right to freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly,” the majority ruling added.
After hearing the defendants’ argument that the event involved the “sale of potentially unlawful items designed for torture or unlawful restraint, or the sale of weaponry to regimes that were then using them against civilian populations”, judge Angus Hamilton found they had a “lawful excuse” for obstructing the highway leading to the convention.
Australia’s multibillion-dollar weapons industry has grown exponentially in recent years, as the Government seeks to prioritise arms exports. However, the Government has faced criticism for providing export permits to several countries linked to human rights abuses.
Mr MacLeod is to be sentenced with his co-accused Davis Johnson on Monday. They will be represented by Brisbane-based barrister Joshua Morris.
Indonesia’s Repression Hasn’t Broken the West Papuan Freedom Struggle – an interview with Jason MacLeod (Jacobin)