By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — Nine protesters were arrested at a demonstration outside the Malaysian consulate on August 22. Organised by the Sydney Rainforest Action Group (SRAG), the action coincided with debate on a bill introduced by Democrat Senator John Coulter into federal parliament to restrict the import of rainforest timbers.
SRAG focussed its action on the Malaysian consulate to draw attention to a continuing blockade, involving about 500 people, against rainforest destruction in Sarawak. Demonstrations took place in Melbourne and Brisbane on the same day. About 40 people took part in the Sydney action.
"We're trying to put international pressure on the Malaysian government to change these logging practices", SRAG member Dean Jeffries told Green Left.
At the action, Democrat member of the NSW upper house Richard Jones argued that it was corrupt politicians and big business in Australia and Malaysia, not ordinary Malaysians, who benefited from rainforest logging.
Sharon Gibson, one of the nine arrested, told Green Left that she was arrested for engaging in "unreasonable obstruction in relation to the passage of persons or vehicles into protected premises".
Bail conditions for the nine involved a promise that they would not return to the Malaysian consulate.
"Four of us said we couldn't sign that because we thought there was a high chance we would be going back", said Gibson. After spending the rest of the day at the police station, the four were finally released on unconditional bail.
The nine activists' cases are due for hearing on September 18. SRAG is considering a defence based on the international law known as the Nuremberg Obligation, under which it is defensible to break laws if by doing so a "greater evil" can be prevented.
Coulter's bill was defeated 50-8, with no votes in favour from the Liberal, National or Labor parties. Senator Jo Vallentine (Greens WA), who would have voted for the bill, was overseas.