Activists return to Vandenberg Air Force Base prior to sentencing
18 January 2002, Los Angeles, California - Greenpeace activists who face jail over a peaceful protest against the Star Wars missile defence programme in the United States, have peacefully and lawfully returned to the military base to re-state their opposition to the programme.
While still awaiting sentencing, activists gathered at the front gate of Vandenberg Air Force Base holding banners that read "Still Protesting Star Wars".
14 activists and two freelance journalists pled guilty to conspiring to trespass at the base last July 14th (1). This Friday morning in Los Angeles, nine of the group are due to be sentenced (2). The charge carries a maximum of six months in jail.
"Greenpeace is proud of the action conducted in opposition to the test of the Star Wars missile defence programme at Vandenberg Airforce Base last July 14, and it is proud of the activists who carried it out. We remain committed to opposing the Bush Administration's dangerous and ill-conceived missile defence program, to working for a world free of nuclear weapons. We are still protesting Star Wars," said Greenpeace International disarmament campaigner Mike Townsley. "They can tie our hands, but they can't tape our mouths." Townsley added.
Even though all those present entered the same guilty plea last week, the US Attorney's office has said it may still demand jail terms for seven of the group, including both freelance journalists (3).
"The government's insistence on felony charges in this case was outrageous and unprecedented. I never saw anything like it in my seven years as a federal prosecutor. That the government would compound this injustice by seeking jail time for seven of these peaceful protestors, most of whom have no prior convictions, is an affront to the principles of democracy." said Greenpeace lawyer Aaron Dyer.
All the activists due to be sentenced today will make statements in court detailing their opposition to the Star Wars programme and the fact that the July 14th test broke both US and international law - an allegation they would have been prevented from presenting to the court had they gone to trial.
Notes to editors:
(1) The US Attorney's Office dropped the two felony charges against all the defendants. All those present in court pled guilty to a misdemeanour charge of conspiring to trespass. Greenpeace in the United States has been bound by a civil injunction preventing US staff from breaking the law during protests at military bases in the US and Marshall Islands that support the Star Wars programme for the next five years.
One German activist, Mathias Pendzailek was unable to return to the States to plead, after being hospitalised with a severe inner ear infection which prevented him from flying.
(2) Those to be sentenced today are from the US, UK, India, Australia & Sweden.
(3) Those to be sentenced on April 15th are from the US, UK, New Zealand, Germany, Canada & Spain
Sara Holden, Greenpeace International
+1 202 257 5591
Carol Gregory, Greenpeace USA press officer: +1 202 251 3998
Mike Townsley, Greenpeace International campaigner: +1 202 255 9560
Photographs of the Greenpeace activists return to Vandenberg are available from:
John Novis, Greenpeace photo editor, Amsterdam: +31 20 524 9580
Greenpeace photo editor, Washington:
+1 202 319-2441