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News in Brief
On 6 May, district judge Peter Crabtree at Reading court threw out bail conditions imposed on four Aldermaston Camp(aign) women by police and the MoD after the 15 February blockade. The conditions had banned the four from roads surrounding the Aldermaston and Burghfield nuclear bomb factories and from any MoD land. The women argued this was unnecessary and disproportionate and interfered with their European Convention on Human Rights freedoms of association and assembly. Puzzlingly, while the judge appeared to agree, he imposed a new minor condition, prohibiting the women from travelling along a short stretch of road around Tadley Gate.
Faslane Peace Camp has an urgent shortage of campers, with only two full-time residents who are moving on after two years at the camp. Previous residents are organising a provisional rota but a longer-term solution with fresh input is needed. The Faslane peace camp, on the doorstep of the Trident nuclear submarine base north of Glasgow, presents a wonderful opportunity for a campaign of action against the storage and deployment of nuclear weapons. More info: 01436 820 901.
On 20 May at Nottingham magistrates’ court, anti-arms-trade activist Kirk Jackson was found guilty of aggravated trespass for his part in a protest that shut down an arms company for a day. (See PN 2519.) Jackson was given a twelvemonth conditional discharge and ordered to pay £350 court costs for his role in the 18 February rooftop protest at the Nottingham warehouse of international arms company Heckler & Koch. Mike Thornton, managing director of Heckler & Koch, refused to answer when asked if his company carried out manufacturing in Nottingham. The activists are appealing for help in paying £825 in fines/costs: www.shutdownhk.org.uk
On 22 May, a small “fire-cracker type” bomb detonated in front of the Nepali constituent assembly building in Kathmandu. No one was injured. According to police, an unexploded socket bomb was also found, along with leaflets from a previously-unknown group “Dynamic Youth Forum Nepal”, demanding the resignation of the present government and the creation of a national unity government. Meanwhile, Nepal remained in a state of political crisis, with the mandate of the deadlocked constituent assembly running out on 28 May, without producing even the bare bones of a constitution.
The government coalition and the Nepali security forces initiated the crisis in April by refusing to integrate 19,600 Maoist ex-guerrillas recognised by the UN into the armed forces, as required by the comprehensive peace accord of November 2006. (See PN 2521.) At the end of May, divisions were apparent in the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the largest party in the constituent assembly (CA), but currently in opposition. As we go to press, the Maoist leadership were deciding whether to follow the other parties into confrontation, the dissolution of the CA, a constitutional crisis, and, possibly, a return to civil war. Earlier in May, the leadership called off its “indefinite” national general strike after just six days.
Three Sahrawi hunger strikers in Moroccan prisons (see PN 2521) won their freedom in mid-May. Six Western Sahara human rights activists were arrested last October on their return from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. Three (Saleh Bouih, Rachid Sghir and Yahdih Terroussi) were released on bail by the appeals court in Salé on 18 May. The six began a hunger strike on 18 March but ended it six weeks later at the end of April. On the same day, 28 April, Sahrawi Mohamad Dayhani was abducted by Moroccan plainclothes police in Laâyoune, Western Sahara. He had just left a celebration for a relative, another freed political prisoner, Abdallah Dayhani. As of mid-May, Mohamad’s whereabouts were still unknown. In mid-May, it was announced that Oscar-winning Spanish actor Javier Bardem is producing a documentary ( “Oulad Lemzun” or “Sons of the Clouds”) on Spain’s former colony of Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. Bardem is a long-time supporter of Western Saharan independence. According to the trade magazine Variety, the film will include interviews with the presidents of France and Algeria, two former Spanish prime ministers, and with ex-US president Bill Clinton.
Public opposition to the war in Afghanistan had grown in Britain in the run-up to the election, according to an Angus Reid Public Opinion poll published on 22 April. Only 32% of respondents (down six points since February) said they supported the war, while 59% were opposed (up seven points). Only 12% of Britons foresaw a clear victory by US-led forces; 32% expected a negotiated settlement from a position of US and allied strength that gives the Taliban a small role in the Afghan government. 16% of respondents predicted a negotiated settlement from a position of US and allied weakness that gives the Taliban a significant role in the Afghan government; and 9% believed the Taliban will defeat US-led forces.
Malaysian anti-war groups attempted to arrest former British prime minister Tony Blair when he appeared as the keynote speaker at a “National Achievers Conference” in Kuala Lumpur. Seven activists, including two from the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC) and two representatives of the Iraqi community in Malaysia, evaded intense security and registered themselves as delegates. When Blair appeared near the VIP entrance of the convention hall, Matthias Chang and Zainur Zakaria of the KLWCC rushed forward to serve the a war crimes indictment, while the Iraqi representatives shouted: “Mass murderer! War criminal! Shame on you!” Over 30 British and Malaysian security personnel prevented the serving of the indictment.
On 11 May, nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu lost his final appeal against a sentence passed for talking to foreign journalists and thus breaking Israeli restrictions on talking to foreigners. Amnesty International declared Vanunu a prisoner of conscience for the first time when he started his three-month sentence on 23 May. Mordechai refused an offer of community service in West Jerusalem instead, after his request to do it in East Jerusalem was denied.
On the day the last PN went to press, 19 April, British comedian and activist Mark Thomas was awarded £1,200 compensation for an unlawful police search. He was stopped and searched for 12 minutes at an anti-arms trade demonstration on 11 September 2007, because of his “over-confident attitude”. Mark said: “£100 a minute is slightly more than my usual rate.”
The British government policy of transferring prisoners in Afghanistan into the custody of the Afghan security forces was put to a judicial review in the high court (see PN 2521). The case, brought by PN columnist Maya Evans (see p13), concluded on 28 April. The high court was told of nine prisoners who the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) had tortured using electric shocks and severe beatings. Public Interest Lawyers argued that torture was “endemic” in the NDS “even at a high level”. Despite this, the court heard, the abuse allegations were left to be investigated by the NDS itself, with British prison inspectors currently being denied access to NDS prisoners held in Helmand. A verdict is likely soon after PN goes to press.
British forces sent to Afghanistan and Iraq are 20% more likely to drink “hazardous levels of alcohol” than troops who are not deployed, researchers from Kings College London have learned. In a study of almost 10,000 army personnel they also found that almost one in five report a common mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Perhaps relatedly, just one third of British troops feel themselves to be valued and merely one in five believe morale is high in their branch of the armed forces, reports the latest survey of the ministry of defence.
In a new British film, Cul-de-Sac, Iranian actress Kiana Firouz plays a lesbian seeking asylum in Britain. The Home Office rejects her application and sends her back to Iran, where homosexuality receives the punishment of flogging, execution, or both. The film mirrors Kiana’s life, At the time of writing, Kiana is “in incredible danger, not only because she’s clearly gay but because the film does not show the Iranian authorities in a good light. They will probably seek to make an example of her,” said one of her legal representatives. On 20 May, a couple in Malawi were jailed for 14 years with hard labour for the crime of committing unnatural acts and gross indecency - being gay.
After writing 50 protest letters to the council, police and his MP, with no luck, Tony Fuller orchestrated more direct action in early May to stop lorry drivers zooming through his Dorset village. His house has had to be rebuilt twice after being hit by a juggernaut. Mr Fuller repeatedly pressed the button on the pedestrian crossing, and walked across the road and back, with other protesters, causing gridlock.