Protesters get probation in missile defense protest

The Associated Press
Saturday April 13, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Two Greenpeace activists were sentenced to a year’s probation Friday for taking part in a protest intended to stop the launch of an unarmed test missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base last year. 

Mathias Pendzialek, 35, and Tom Knappe, 35, both of Germany, had pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor conspiracy charge of knowingly entering a military property without authorization 

Initially, the group faced felony charges because they entered the “safety zone” at Vandenberg, located along the Central California coast, during a missile launch connected to the development of a national missile defense system. 

Federal prosecutors agreed to drop the felony charges as part of a deal that required Greenpeace USA to agree to refrain until 2007 from breaking the law at U.S. installations involved in missile-defense work. If the group does, it faces a $500,000 penalty. 

On July 14, 2001, a group of 17 people sailed from San Luis Bay in four boats to an area off Vandenberg where they entered a Coast Guard-declared “safety zone“in hopes of halting the launch of the Minuteman II. 

Greenpeace contends the protest delayed the launch by 40 minutes, but the government said it was only two minutes. ’ 

Before he was sentenced, Pendzialek told U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow that he had a responsibility to peacefully protest to “say no when it is apparent that international laws are being broken.” 

Knappe said, “It was a protest against one of the most ... hazardous projects in the history of mankind.” 

The defense program is intended to develop the capability of intercepting and destroying incoming missiles while they are in space. 

Nine other activists pleaded guilty and received the same sentences earlier. Six others were to be sentenced Monday.