Refugee supporters are not criminals!

January 19, 2005

Sarah Stephen, Sydney

One-hundred people gathered outside the Downing Centre Local Court on January 11 to protest charges laid against four refugee supporters who allegedly helped asylum seekers to escape from Australia.

Charges against Mark Goudkamp were formally dropped on January 11 due to lack of evidence. He was overseas on the date he was alleged to have signed a passport application. The case against John Morris and Sunil Menom has been adjourned until January 25, when they will be required to enter a plea for the charge of making false or misleading statements in support of passport applications for detention centre escapees. Charges against a fourth person have also been dropped.

The rally was addressed by Iranian refugee Mohsen Soltanyzand, Refugee Action Coalition activist Ian Rintoul and Teachers Federation multicultural officer Penny Carosi.

In a statement read out to the crowd, writer and refugee supporter Tom Keneally noted: "This is a case where to my eyes, and those of other fair citizens, the letter of the law is being applied to stifle not only dissent but the enlightened activism which is a duty and birthright of Australians. These are the sorts of prosecutions which are always brought in the name of an untenable policy, in this case the policy of mandatory detention, the millstone around Australia's neck, the national shame in the face of our recent and laudable response to the tsunami.

"Last month with fellow-members of [writers' group] Pen, I was involved in a brief hunger demonstration over the destiny of Sarath Amarasinghe, a Sri Lankan detainee in Baxter, and his fellow countrymen engaged in a hunger strike of protest at government detention. Now, despite the tsunami, Sri Lankans with bridging visas are being hounded out of the country. Iranians are being deported to their tyrannous homeland with indifference to their destiny. Why is our mercy so selective? When I look at Australia's bright summer face today, I know where crime lies, and it doesn't lie amongst the people here today.

"It lies in the violation of human rights, of which our federal government is an unabashed and enthusiastic perpetrator." Wishing luck to those in court, Keneally's statement concluded: "The better angels of Australia are singing with you, and I wish I were there."

To sign the solidarity statement, for copies of the petition or to offer your support, visit <>.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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