Christians strip off in Perth court protest at detention of asylum seeker children

christians strip off in perth court

Christian activists protesting at the detention of asylum-seeker children stripped to their underwear on the steps of the Perth magistrates court and declared their intention to march on Julie Bishop’s office, less than an hour after receiving spent convictions for another protest action at Bishop’s electorate office in December.

Eight people from Love Makes A Way, a group set up to lobby for the release of asylum seekers in detention, pleaded guilty to trespassing in the foreign minister’s Subiaco electorate office on 10 December.

They were arrested after an eight-hour peaceful sit-in protest against the detention of children on Nauru.

Common Grace national director Jarrod McKenna, 34, Uniting Church pastor Richard Telfer, 29, retired Uniting Church minister Bev Fabb, 68, former missionary Alex McGrechan, 28, Anglican minister Lorna Green, 59, Riverview community services manager Alex McKeller, 39, musician Sarah Menogue, 32, and social worker Teresa Lee, 34, appeared before deputy chief magistrate Elizabeth Woods in the magistrates court on Thursday.

Woods issued a spent conviction to all eight, subject to a three-month $500 conditional release order. If they committed another offence in that period they would forfeit the $500 and a conviction would be recorded. They were also each ordered to pay costs of $79.

Speaking on the court steps after the hearing, McKenna said it was a “good result” but more action was needed.

He quoted from Matthew 5:38, telling the watching media pack he wanted it to “understand biblically, for us, what it’s about,” before stripping off.

“We want to send a clear message that we will continue to be obedient to Jesus until these refugees are recognised as people and their rights observed,” he said.

“So while we’ve turned the other cheek, we will now give our outer-garments as well.

“Those who thought that strip searches would be enough to stop us; well, we serve with Jesus, who was strip-searched before he went to the cross.”

Earlier, a police prosecutor told the court the group arrived at Bishop’s office at 8.45am on 10 December and “gained entry into the office by deceit” by buzzing the security intercom.

He said the group brought food and water and took up residence in the office, where they began “chanting and praying”.

Bishop’s staff continued working and at 3.45pm said they had called police and the group would have to leave.

He said the group failed to leave and were arrested at 5pm after “negotiations failed”.

The protesters’s lawyer, Shash Nigam, said the group did not gain entry by deceit, but identified themselves as from a church group. They brought flowers and shared “freshly baked choc-chip cookies” with staff and police.

“I am instructed that police did eat a few of those cookies,” Nigam said.

The prosecution opposed applications for spent convictions in the cases of McKenna and McGrechan, who had been given spent convictions on similar charges before.

About 50 people rallied outside the court in support of the protesters.

Addressing the rally, Green said she would do the same thing again.

“It was a horrible experience for us, but it pales into insignificance compared to what might be experienced by the men, women and children in detention,” she said.

“We cannot sit on our hands and do nothing.”

Fabb, who worked as a Uniting church pastor in Port Hedland, said she became involved in the plight of refugees after attending a Christmas celebration at a detention centre in 2002. She described seeing the detention centre worker, dressed as Santa, address the children in detention.

“Much to my horror, as he called them forward, he called them forward by number,” she said.

“That’s what detention does to children, it dehumanises them.”

McKenna, a coordinator of Love Makes A Way, said he did not want the experience of the protesters to overshadow the plight of those in detention.

Labor senator Sue Lines and Greens senator Scott Ludlam also attended the rally.

“As a Labor senator I made the decision long ago to speak out about this, within my own party too – Labor’s policies need to change too,” Lines said.

As the Love Makes A Way protesters were preparing to go into court, refugee advocates began a 32-hour walk around the Asio head offices in Canberra.

Walk for Freedom organiser Jasmine Pilbrow said they aimed to raise awareness about 32 people who have been held in indefinite detention since they were declared a security risk by Asio in 2010 and 2011.

Pilbrow said they were calling for the 32 to be released and given citizenship and for all 54 people who received an adverse security rating by Asio be given the reason for that decision.

McKenna said the group intended to walk single-file, in their underwear and wearing “refugees are people” sandwich boards, to Bishop’s electorate office, “because it was our intention to have a meeting”.

“I’m going to need my shoes, because it’s about an hour’s walk to Julie Bishop’s office,” he said.