Convicted trespassers Andrew Paine, Jim Dowling, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling outside Brisbane Federal Court.
Convicted trespassers Andrew Paine, Jim Dowling, Tim Webb and Franz Dowling outside Brisbane Federal Court. DAN PELED

Fine Gap: protesters vow to keep offending

SIX Christian protesters have vowed not to pay the $15,500 in fines they racked up after breaking into the Pine Gap military base.

Despite the six committing similar offences 40 times previously, none will spend a day behind bars, after a judge said he feared turning them into martyrs.

The Northern Territory Supreme Court, sitting in Brisbane, heard in the weeks leading up to September 29, 2016, Margaret Pestorius, 53, and Paul Christie, 44, from Cairns, and Jim Dowling, 62, Franz Dowling, 20, Andrew Paine, 31, Tim Webb, 23, from Brisbane, travelled to Alice Springs to protest the military base.

The court heard they are members of the "Peace Pilgrims" and believe war crimes are being committed at Pine Gap. They spent days protesting outside the facility's main entrance where there were many signs warning entering was illegal.

On September 29, Pestorius, Paine, Webb and Jim and Franz Dowling scaled a barbed wire fence before climbing a nearby hill where they sung a lament. Paine live streamed the protest on a mobile phone. 

The group was quickly detected and Federal Police arrested them. 

On October 3, Christie, who had been involved in earlier legal protests, scaled a fence alone and walked about 2km into the base. He was found praying in a creek bed and arrested. 

The court heard he knew the others had broken in and been arrested.

Justice John Reeves said as the group has done no damage and had not posed a threat to Pine Gap's operation they were at the lowest level of offending. 

The court heard the group believed Pine Gap was responsible for "countless innocent deaths" through drone strikes in Asia and the Middle East.

Justice Reeves said Jim Dowling had 27 similar offences but decided not to jail him so he would not become a "martyr".

Justice Reeves said the six were not being punished for their beliefs regarding Pine Gap, but for deliberately breaking the law and trespassing on the base. 

Webb and Franz Dowling were fined $1250, Christie was fined $2000, Paine was fined $2500, Pestorius was fined $3500 and Jim Dowling was fined $5000.

Supporters cheered them as they walked out of court and sang songs calling for Pine Gap to be shut down.

Speaking outside court Jim Dowling said he had "no intention" of paying his fines but did not want to go to jail.

"I'd certainly rather be outside than inside, but I wish he'd taken my advice in Alice Springs and stood with the people who are trying to resist war crimes instead of punishing us at all," he said.

"Whether he (Justice Reeves) sends us to jail or just fines us, we'll keep going. We'll keep doing what we're doing and hope others will join us."

The court heard members of the six had previously trespassed on Rockhampton Commonwealth land and were involved in vandalising a war memorial in a Brisbane cemetery. -NewsRegional

News Corp Australia

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