Turbulent time for priest in human rights protest

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The Independent Online
A Catholic priest in Liverpool who yesterday conducted an Easter service with a human rights message was arrested for his trouble.

Father Arthur Fitzgerald, of St Michael's church in Liverpool, was arrested inside a British Aerospace factory at Warton in Lancashire after he held an Easter liturgy with parishioners and refugees to demonstrate against human rights abuses in Indonesia.

The factory constructs Hawk trainer jets which are sold to Indonesia where, human rights activists maintain, they are used against the people in East Timor.

At dawn, a party of eight protesters including Fr Fitzgerald formed a human stepladder to climb the fence at the base to protest.

The demonstration marked the start of a day of action at the base, where 50 other demonstrators later held a peaceful prayer service outside the gates.

Four East Timor refugees joined the demonstrators, singing songs, unfurling banners and giving out Easter eggs to BAe's security guards.

Fr Fitzgerald and the eight protesters were arrested after the security guards asked them to leave, escorted them to the perimeter fence and handed them over to the police.

Before his arrest Fr Fitzgerald said: "British Aerospace Hawk jets are being used by the Indonesian regime to support attacks in East Timor and West Papua. This trade in death has to stop."

BAe would not comment on the claims by protesters but confirmed the protest had gone ahead and said their response to any demonstration "is as always to respect any lawful protest but to take positive action in the event that any illegal acts are directed against our sites".

The protesters were held for questioning at Lytham police station, near Blackpool, where they were later charged with civil aviation trespass, according to Lancashire police. Fr Fitzgerald and three other British nationals, none of whom were named by the police, were released on bail to appear before magistrates today.

The East Timor refugees were remanded in police custody and were also due to appear in the court today, a police spokesman said.

Last July, four women, arrested at the base, were acquitted by a crown court jury in Liverpool of causing criminal damage to a Hawk jet estimated at pounds 10m, after they successfully pleaded they were entitled to use reasonable force in trying to prevent of a crime against the people of East Timor.

Matthew Brace