News in brief

Colonial corruption

It is now suspected that Moroccan bribery may have led to a human rights activist from Western Sahara not making it to the shortlist of the prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in 2021.

Sultana Khaya told the Italian newspaper, Il fatto quotidiano, how joyful she was to hear she had been nominated: ‘This candidacy seemed to me to be a great help. We needed someone to literally save our lives. This candidacy felt like an important link with the outside world.’

She went on: ‘After the rape I suffered [at the hands of the Moroccan security forces], discovering that behind my defeat in the Sakharov Prize is perhaps the manoeuvring of emissaries of the Moroccan government, with the complicity of European parliamentarians, is like having been raped for a second time.’

In December, an almighty scandal blew up in Brussels as police found evidence of massive corruption in the European parliament, paid for by Qatar – and by Morocco.

Morocco has illegally occupied Western Sahara since 1975. The European Union has made trading agreements with Morocco that (illegally) include the resources of occupied Western Sahara, including its coastal fishing areas.

On 18 January, the lawyer of Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of the four suspects in a Belgian jail, said the former MEP had confessed ‘to having actively participated in acts of corruption in connection with Qatar and in connection with Morocco.’

Over €600,000 in cash was reportedly found by police at Panzeri’s home.

Back in 2021, the Left group of MEPs had proposed Sultana Khaya for the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize.

The human rights defender was then under effective house arrest in Boujdour in Western Sahara. Moroccan security forces sexually assaulted both her and her sister and raided the house many times. (See PN 2660.)

The Social Democrat bloc in the European parliament was instructed by its leadership not to vote for Sultana for the Sakharov Prize, but to vote instead for the candidate put forward by the parliament’s far-right bloc. This was a very unusual step.

It’s now believed this decision was the result of corruption.

Despite evidence that Morocco was involved in corruption, the European parliament refused to name the kingdom in a December resolution that condemned Qatar.

An amendment naming Morocco as well was rejected by a majority of MEPs: 238 MEPs voted in favour of including it while 253 MEPs voted against (67 abstained).

While this crisis was exploding, Western Sahara Resources Watch revealed that the European commission is preparing a new EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement to include, once again, the waters of occupied Western Sahara.


Over 100 people attended US peace activist Medea Benjamin’s 9 January online talk for Peace News, ‘War in Ukraine: making sense of a senseless war’. The event was ably chaired by Tom Unterrainer, chair of CND (who will also be chairing our 31 January talk).

A review of Medea’s book, War in Ukraine, can be found on p22.

The video of Medea’s opening remarks is now on YouTube:

There was also a lively discussion (among a smaller crowd) on 15 January when PN promotions worker Gabriel Carlyle talked about the ideas in his article Activism is not an unpopularity contest.

LaForge in prison

On 10 January, John LaForge, a co-director of Nukewatch US, entered a German prison to serve a 50-day sentence, becoming the first US citizen ever to be imprisoned for a nuclear weapons protest in Germany.

John had been convicted of trespassing at Büchel air force base in two 2018 protests against the US B61 nuclear bombs stored there (PN 2658).

John was sent to JVA Billwerder prison in Hamburg after refusing to pay a €600 fine. He has appealed the conviction.

Shortly before going to prison, John took part in an online meeting with German and other activists:

HS2 re-trial

On 16 December, the high court in London ruled that a group of anti-HS2 campaigners who tunnelled next to Euston train station should face a retrial.

Originally, charges of aggravated trespass were thrown out by Highbury magistrates’ court in October 2021 (PN 2657). District judge Susan Williams ruled that HS2 Rebellion could not have been disrupting construction... because construction hadn’t started at the time the tunnellers were evicted.

The high court has now decided that clearing the area also counts as ‘construction work’.

Illegal arrests?

On 23 November, a review found that the arrest of four journalists covering climate protests on the M25 was ‘potentially unlawful’.

Documentary filmmaker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles were arrested on 7 November. LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch was arrested the following day. All three had offered their press cards. (One other, unnamed journalist was also arrested)

The review by Cambridgeshire police found that the arrests (by Hertfordshire police) were not overreactions or mistakes by officers on the scene.

The arrests were the result of a policing plan drawn up by senior officers which ‘almost exclusively endorsed arrest as the only intervention available to officers’.


Who goes there?

Dozens of international peace activists have volunteered to act as an unarmed civilian protection team at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, supporting inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (see PN 2663).

John Reuwer, founder of the Zaporizhzhya Protection Proposal project, writes: ‘Among the most immediate of the many threats faced by Ukrainians is the release of a nuclear dirty bomb by an intentional or accidental mishap at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant.’

To support or to sign up for the Zaporizhzhya Protection Proposal:

Who sat down?

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was among thousands of campaigners arrested on 17 January during protests in Germany at the expansion of the Garzweiler open-cast coal mine.

Greta was arrested in the village of Lützerath, which had seen a violent eviction by riot police the week before. Lützerath is scheduled to be swallowed up by the expansion of the mine.

The Green party, which is part of the German government, said the activists should accept the compromise which traded Lützerath for five other villages and for bringing the end of coal use forward to 2030 rather than 2038.

Who launched that?

Drone Wars UK and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) expressed opposition to the first attempt to launch a rocket into space from UK soil on 9 January.

The mission, led by RAF squadron leader Matthew Stannard, tried to put two pairs of military satellites into orbit as well as civil and dual-use satellites.

Drone Wars director Chris Cole said: ‘This launch initiates a new era of military space expansion by the UK with Britain wholeheartedly joining a space arms race which will inevitably lead to greater risk of instability and conflict.’

‘Who elected him?’

On 9 January, charges were dropped against Symon Hill, campaigns manager of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), in connection with his anti-royal protest on 11 September.

Coming across the proclamation of king Charles III in Central Oxford by chance, Symon shouted out: ‘Who elected him?’

He was arrested, taken to a police van, then de-arrested. In December, he was charged with ‘disorderly behaviour’, before having the charge dropped in January.

Symon is considering legal action against Thames Valley police for wrongful arrest.

It’s not clear what has happened to the three people arrested in Edinburgh in similar circumstances.