On March 20th 2003 the U.S.A. launched its “Shock and Awe” attack on Baghdad. Six weeks later, President Bush landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier to proclaim the end of major combat operations. For the people of Iraq, the nightmare of death and destruction continued. Saddam’s regime was gone, but the US-led occupation forces were not there to guarantee the safety of the civilian population or provide the most basic services. They were there to use their weapons of mass destruction on the Iraqi people in order to crush resistance and secure control of the region.
On that day — numbed by feelings of grief and betrayal on hearing the news of the bombing — Reta Kaur painted “The Killing has Started” on two white marble statues outside the U.S. Consulate in Melbourne. She left red hand prints to symbolise the blood on the hands of the U.S. Government. For this, she faces criminal charges.
Before and during this war and the ongoing brutal occupation, protesters around the globe have rallied in unprecedented numbers to oppose and expose the lies of the warmongers. On February 15, 2003, one month before the invasion, roughly 10 million people in almost 800 locations around the globe united to form the largest mass protest movement in history. In Australia, a broad spectrum of people including unionists, political parties, religious, ethnic and community groups combined with peace organisations to express outrage and distress at huge rallies and other public events.
Prominent among the peace organisations was Women for Peace: No Weapons No Wars. Some Melbourne women, including Reta Kaur, founded the group in 2002 “in response to the continuing culture of war in the 21st century.” From March 6th to April 17th 2003, Women for Peace, together with the Moreland Peace Group, held a daily protest outside the American Consulate at
553 St Kilda Road, Melbourne.
On the day of the bombing, when Reta wrote her message, the police were promptly called. They arrested her, in spite of her telling them she would clean off the water-soluble paint herself. The initial summary charge of wilful damage was increased five months later to a charge of criminal damage because of the cost of the clean up. “This is an attempt to criminalise peaceful protest against the invasion. Thousands of people have been killed in Iraq. Who are the real criminals?” asks Reta Kaur.
Reta’s case is being defended on pro bono by Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon. After a first hearing on June 7th 2004 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court, the next contest mention will be on August 9th to investigate whether the case should be heard under the Victorian or Commonwealth jurisdiction. Commonwealth jurisdiction covers protest action at diplomatic premises. Defend Reta Kaur!