Stephen Langford: When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty

July 1, 2016

Refugee rights activist Stephen Langford was at Waverley Court on June 29 facing charges for writing "Omid" on the electorate office of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Omid Masoumali was a young asylum seeker detained in Nauru who died after he set himself on fire.

After an initial hearing, the case was adjourned to July 27. Langford made this speech outside the court.

* * *

We acknowledge the land on which we stand as Aboriginal land, and acknowledge their elders and brave activists and fighters, from Pemulwuy to Ray Jackson, to Ken Canning.

I do not regret what I have done, writing Omid's name on Turnbull's office. He died terribly, and our government, and Malcolm Turnbull, are responsible. They violated Omid Masoumali's human rights and refugee rights, guaranteed by the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, which Australia has signed.

If I was braver than I am, I would have broken my bail conditions and written 'OMID R.I.P.' all over Sydney, so no one can forget his name, the name of a 24-year-old refugee whose name means 'hope' in Farsi. His death should always be on our conscience. His family's statement is heart-rending.

But this is not the time to talk of how terrible the situation is, how we are sliding into fascism, which is the denial of human rights, but a time to fight back by every ethical means available to us: non-violent direct action. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, there are certain things it is an honour to be arrested or imprisoned for; the struggle for justice is worth being imprisoned for.

Damage to property is regrettable, but if the damage to property can stop the destruction of human beings, then we must do it. I pay tribute to Will Saunders and David Burgess who wrote NO WAR on the side of the Opera House in 2003. They are true heroes. Alana Maycock and Dr David Isaacs have shown us not to be afraid to break laws that protect criminality.

We demand the immediate closure of Manus and Nauru, and all the camps. We demand the safe passage of refugees from Indonesia and Malaysia. We demand the end of locking up refugees and towing back boats. We demand the fast-tracking of those on inhuman visas to citizenship.

We demand a Human Rights Act, which will stop the scapegoating of refugees, Indigenous people, or any other minority. We demand the swift transport here of Syrian refugees, as the Canadian government brought 20,000 quickly to Canada, and welcomed them.

We demand an end to the lie which is “border protection”. The protection we need and will fight for is the protection of human rights in this country. This is a struggle like the fight for women's suffrage, the Gurindji strike, the Moratorium, the anti-apartheid, and East Timor solidarity movements. It is a real struggle.

As Thomas Jefferson said: when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

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