News in brief

Turkish demo arrests

19 Turkish anti-militarist activists have been charged with “alienating people from military service” and “praising a crime and criminals” as the result of a 6 January solidarity demo held for Enver Aydemir, a conscientious objector who has been in prison since 24 December. Amnesty is asking for (polite) appeals on behalf of Enver and the 19, to the Turkish minister of national defence, by 8 March.
Please write to: Vecdi Gonul, minister of national defence, Milli Savunma Bakanligi, 06100 Ankara, Turkey;

Broken promises

On 21 January, 14 people were arrested after holding a memorial service, in the US capitol building in Washington DC, for three men tortured to death at Guantanamo. They were taking part in a day of action against Obama’s broken promises to close Guantanamo by 22 January and end torture.

Rossporter jailed

Iraq war "illegal"

The decision to invade Iraq in 2003 had “no sound mandate in international law”, a Dutch inquiry said on 13 January, in the first independent legal assessment of the decision. It emerged that the Dutch government had decided to join the war after Blair had sent the Dutch prime minister a private letter seemingly giving the British government’s views on Saddam’s nuclear weapons programme.
Under diplomatic protocol, “private letters” are the property of the sender and the British government refused the enquiry a copy of the letter.

Turkish demo arrests

Nepal crisis

The clock is ticking. Nepal’s fractious political parties only have until 28 May to restructure the Nepali state, write a new constitution, and integrate around 15,000 former Maoist guerrillas into the Nepali security forces. The army, which is very resistant, wants the police force to take many of them.
4,008 Maoist fighters have been ruled out of integration by the UN, either because they were children at the time of the May 2006 ceasefire or because they joined up after that date. Arguments rage inside Nepal over the nature of the new federal state demanded by disadvantaged ethnic minorities.
While the Maoists have been toning down their protests, other parties are raising the temperature. On 19 February, Khum Bahadur Khadka, a senior Nepali Congress leader, raised the possibility of taking up arms, and put forward a proposal for a paramilitary youth force to “fight” the Maoist Young Communist League.
Meanwhile, as PN went to press, the royalist National Democratic Party announced that it would be attempting a general strike in Kathmandu to demand a referendum on the reinstatement of the monarchy and the country’s status as a Hindu state.

Inside Pentonville

Daniel Viesnik writes: On Monday 1 February, at Highbury Corner magistrates’ court in north London, I was sentenced to 14 days’ imprisonment (of which I served just four) for wilfully refusing to pay a £50 fine and £465 court costs for a symbolic sit-down protest at the gates of the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire in July 2007. It was my first time in prison.
The peaceful protest took place during the three-month Footprints for Peace walk towards a nuclear-free future from Dublin to London (via Belfast and Glasgow). It was the first time I had faced arrest, and I thought long and hard about it as we walked down from the Faslane submarine base in Scotland.
As I lay on the top bunk of my bed, locked up in a little white cell in HMP Pentonville’s “A” wing for 22 hours a day with just my Lithuanian cellmate and daytime TV for company, I had occasion to reflect upon the decision I made, probably somewhere around Sellafield in Cumbria, that if I got arrested trying to stop new nuclear warheads being built at Aldermaston, it would somehow not seem appropriate to accept a caution or pay a fine.
If I had done wrong, then surely it was of the kind that Oskar Schindler was guilty of when he helped Jews avoid the gas chambers, or that Rosa Parks had committed when she impudently refused to move from the “white” section of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
My days of incarceration passed slowly enough that I had time to re-read the short statement I had made to court earlier in the week.
It ended with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience” which seemed to fit the occasion: “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

More walks

Footprints for Peace are currently walking from the Y12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to New York. They are due to arrive at the UN on 1 May, in time for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
A month-long walk in Scotland following the route of the nuclear warhead convoy will be taking place in August.

Justice Not Vengeance are planning a southern England walk against the Afghanistan war this spring, focusing on support for Joe Glenton and military dissent.
Please call 07973 484 202 if you’d like to take part.

Rossporter jailed

On 10 February, in Castlebar circuit court, Ireland, local fisherman Pat O’Donnell was sentenced to seven months in jail for “breach of the peace” and “obstructing a Garda” (police officer) for taking part in protests against Shell’s Corrib gas project in Rossport. Pat said: “All I am trying to do is protect my family and the seas that are our livelihood. My family has fished these waters for five generations – I have no authority to sell the rights to these waters.”
Write to: Pat O’Donnell, Castlerea Prison, Harristown, Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Western Sahara

At the end of January, the Moroccan government shut down the independent newspaper, Le Journal Hebdomadaire. Journalists working on the paper believe the last straw may have been their recent interview with Aminatou Haidar.
The Sahrawi activist fasted for 32 days in December in Lanzarote airport for her right to return to Western Sahara, under illegal occupation by Morocco since 1975. Aminatou Haidar remains under house arrest, and Morocco continues to impose travel restrictions on Sahrawi activists.
According to Human Rights Watch, since August 2009, Moroccan authorities have turned back at least 13 Sahrawi activists at the airport or land borders, confiscating passports from seven of them, and have refused to renew the passports of at least three other Sahrawi activists. Sandblast, a British charity that aims to empower displaced Sahrawi refugees through the arts, launched an e-petition in February focused on Morocco’s application for “advanced status” in the EU. The most recent round of talks between Morocco and the Sahrawi resistance movement Polisario ended inconclusively in early February.
Polisario demanded “the immediate liberation of all Sahrawi political prisoners in Morocco, respect for liberties in the occupied territories and strict observance of the cease-fire agreement” as pre-conditions for negotiations.