News in brief

Victory for Maya

Peace activist and PN columnist Maya Evans won a judicial review at the high court on 12 May, overturning a new rule introduced last year ending legal aid for applicants who would not directly benefit from their claims. Maya had already successfully challenged the Ministry of Defence’s policy of handing over detainees in Afghanistan to the local police.

Maya, from the peace group Justice Not Vengeance, said: “The Ministry of Defence has tried to cut off funding for politically inconvenient cases but they have been caught in the act.”

Result 1

On 2 May, an inquest jury found unanimously that Ian Tomlinson had been “unlawfully killed” by a police officer during the G20 protests in April 2009. They said that “excessive and unreasonable” force had caused death by internal abdominal bleeding. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said he would review his previous decision not to prosecute the officer in question, Simon Haywood.

Result 2

Late news: On 5 April, long-time peace activist Lindis Percy was found “not guilty” of trespass at the US air force base at Mildenhall, Suffolk, under section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. The case dated back to her hour-long tour of Mildenhall on 30 October 2009, after being permitted to enter by a US guard, Kyler Sherman Brown, who now denies ever seeing Lindis. Crucial CCTV footage has mysteriously gone “missing”. The district judge at Bury St Edmunds magistrates’ court found Lindis credible rather than Kyler Sherman Brown. The charge was dismissed and costs were awarded to Lindis.

Result 3

According to a recently leaked CBI memo, minister for the cabinet office Francis Maude told the Confederation of British Industry that there would not be wholesale privatisation because: “The government was not prepared to run the political risk of fully transferring services to the private sector with the result that they could be accused of being naïve or allowing excess profitmaking by private sector firms.”
“Political risk” is a euphemism for “public protest”.

Dirty flag

Two St Andrews university students, aged 18 and 20, are facing trial in August after being critical of Israel and its flag. One of them said he put his hands down inside his jeans and onto a fellow-student’s Israeli flag, and described Israel as a terrorist state guilty of many civilian deaths. The two were arrested at their hall of residence and kept in custody for 36 hours before being charged with “racially aggravated conduct”.

No flag

On 28 April, the Israeli parliament passed a law revoking the citizenship of anyone convicted of espionage or treason. A week later, Mordechai Vanunu, jailed for 18 years for revealing Israel’s nuclear weapons programme in 1986, demanded that his citizenship should be revoked, since he had been found guilty of both espionage and treason.

Nepal crisis

As PN went to press, the Nepali peace process was lurching towards another deadline, another confrontation and (possibly) another extension of the period allowed for agreeing a new democratic constitution (it has already been extended for a year to 28 May 2011). The Nepali Congress party is demanding that the 19,600 Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighters be concentrated in seven camps, brought under the control of an all-party “special committee” and that almost all of them should be demobilised, with only 4,000 being brought into the Nepali security forces.

The comprehensive peace accord that ended the civil war said that a special committee would “integrate” Maoist ex-combatants into the Nepali security forces, or “rehabilitate” them. The Maoists have proposed that 10,000 former guerrillas be integrated. Congress has also demanded, among other things, that PLA members who took part in a Maoist political conference should be discharged in order to safeguard the political neutrality of state security forces.

Congress seems to have no problem with the existing, unreformed Nepali army, which carried out numerous atrocities during the civil war and which defied the elected Maoist government, leading to the Maoists’ resignation two years ago. If Congress’s demands are not met, they will not agree to another one-year extension of the constitution-making process, creating a political vacuum. Meanwhile, the UN is to stop distributing food to nearly a million people in hard-to-reach parts of western Nepal because of funding shortfalls.

Western Sahara

Western Sahara was invaded by Morocco in 1975 and has been occupied illegally since then, with the complicity of the western powers. Photographer Andrew McConnell has an exhibition in New York, displaying portraits of Sahrawi Bedouins in exile from their native Western Sahara. McConnell says: “In pursuing the Sahrawis’ story, what struck me more than anything else was how forgotten these people are. How is it possible, in the 21st century, for tens of thousands of men, women, and children to languish in refugee camps for three and a half decades – unknown? How can continuous UN resolutions and international laws be ignored and abused without censure? And how can human-rights abuses proceed unchallenged?”

McConnell’s portraits are set in the dark: “I wanted to give a sense that this is one long night for the Sahrawis—lasting 35 years. My showing very little of the land emphasizes that the Sahrawis are landless.”


Facebook takedowns

On 29 April, while the mainstream media was distracted by royal goings-on, around 60 left-wing Facebook sites were removed from the web. The sites were mainly anti-cuts groups including Anti-Cuts Across Wigan, Arts Against Cuts, Bristol Ukuncut, Chesterfield Stopthecuts, Leeds City College Against Fees and Cuts and Notts-Uncut Part-of UKUncut. Student, SWP and anarchist groups were also hit.

Someone had used the fact that these groups had wrongly set up “profiles” (meant to be for people) rather than “pages”. By reporting the errors to Facebook, they triggered automatic no-warning takedowns.

Kim up for it

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is ready to enter negotiations over his country’s nuclear weapons without any preconditions, announced former US president Jimmy Carter after a three-day visit to Pyongyang at the end of April. “The sticking point, and it’s a big one, is that they won’t give up their nuclear programme without some kind of security guarantee from the US,” wrote Carter, who was accompanied by three fellow “Elders”: former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari; former prime minister of Norway, Dr Gro Brundtland; and former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson.

Rod down, not out

Dr Rod Thornton, a lecturer in counter-terrorism at the university of Nottingham, was suspended on 4 May for documening serious misconduct by senior university management over the arrest of two university members under the Terrorism Act 2000 in May 2008. Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts, Thornton demonstrates that university management and senior academics colluded to paint Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza in a negative light despite no evidence of wrongdoing. A campaign has begun for Rod Thornton’s immediate reinstatement and for an independent inquiry into the university’s actions in relation to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza.

Peace group mix up?

We’ve just become aware of a new group “British citizens for peace in Libya”, which seems to have started in April, rapidly upgrading itself to “Global citizens for peace in Libya”, which carried out a second fact-finding delegation to Libya on 14 May. GCFPIL is closely linked to “Avalon International Trusteeship”, which describes itself as “a good standing Nevada Non-Profit Organization which has dealt with humanitarian activities for many, many years”, but which also appears to be part of “Green Libya Petro-Services Inc”. More next issue!