Uniting Church condemns strip searching of Christian protesters

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) has condemned WA Police for strip searching Christian asylum-seeker advocates involved in a protest in Perth yesterday.

Several ministers of religion and lay workers including two from the UCA were detained by police after a prayer vigil at Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office in Subiaco. The protesters from the group Love Makes a Way were part of a national day of action in MPs’ offices calling for all children in immigration detention to be released into the community.

After their arrest, one of the protesters involved says police at the Perth Watch House told them they would be forcibly stripped and searched for weapons or drugs if they refused a strip search order before being placed in a holding cell. A number of those searched were visibly distressed.

Moderator of the UCA Synod of Western Australia Rev Steve Francis says he’s appalled at the protesters’ treatment.

“WA Police have deliberately humiliated people engaged in a peaceful act of civil disobedience,” said Steve.

“Strip searching is an outrageous and offensive response to Christian concern for the vulnerable, and I will be seeking an urgent explanation from the WA Police Commissioner.”

Steve says pastoral care is being offered to church members who were detained.

The Perth group had refused to end their vigil in Ms Bishop’s office until they received assurances that 25 babies born in Australia to asylum seeker families would not be transferred to the Nauru detention centre.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, has also condemned WA police behaviour and re-stated the Church’s long-standing opposition to offshore processing.

“No Australian engaged in peaceful, non-violent protest should be subjected to this kind of treatment,” said Andrew.

“This kind of punitive treatment is a reflection of the shameful state to which Australian refugee policy has now sunk, in which the Government of the day thinks it is acceptable to send mothers and babies to a place where they will be at significant risk of physical and mental harm and even abuse.”

Amendments to the Migration Act passed by the Senate last week give unprecedented powers to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, placing the Minister’s decisions out of reach of the courts and giving him permission to act contrary to international law.

Andrew has described their passage as “”a day of great moral failure for Australia.”

Image courtesy of Love Makes a Way

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