News in brief

Census resisted

At least 400 people across the UK are being prosecuted for not completing last year’s national census. Many of them refused on grounds of conscience, protesting against the involvement of US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin in data capture and processing.

On 17 January, Derek Shields, 57, from the Wirral, was found guilty of not completing the census and was fined £75. He has announced that he does not intend to pay the fine.

John Voysey from Herefordshire, who was a conscientious objector during the Second World War, is set to appear in Wrexham magistrates’ court on 1 February.

John Marjoram, mayor of Stroud, is expected to go on trial in early February.

Judith Sambrook will appear at Mold magistrates’ court for a case management hearing on 9 February; she then appears for trial before Wrexham magistrates on 8 March.

Roger Grenville and two other refusers (Huey and Vicky) are to appear at Birmingham magistrates’ court on 2 March.

Deborah Glass-Woodin’s trial at Reading magistrates’ court is set for 14 May.

In Scotland, Barbara Dowling is at Glasgow sheriff court on 26 January for conscientious census refusal. The day before, 25 January, Barbara will be at Dumbarton sheriff court for refusing to pay a fine incurred for blockading Faslane nuclear submarine base.


King misquoted

Regular readers will know that PN has taken a keen interest in the story of the $120m “national memorial” statue and garden for US pacifist Martin Luther King Jr, opened in October in Washington DC, USA.

The statue has on its side a quotation from the “drum major” speech given by King two months before his assassination, in which the civil rights leader criticised the egotistical “drum major instinct”, the “desire to lead the parade”.

King said in the speech that, at his funeral, people should not mention his Nobel peace prize; they should say that he “tried to give his life serving others”, that he “tried to love somebody”: “I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.”

He added: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.”

The sculptor and the architect decided to remove “if you want to say”, and to shorten the remainder to: “I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness.”

Poet Maya Angelou, who worked with King, said the abbreviated quotation made the civil rights leader “look like an arrogant twit”. It is to be changed.  

Nepal crisis

On 9 January, 15 Nepali political parties issued a joint statement criticising the Maoists, currently heading the government, for obstructing the Nepali peace process, which has been staggering on since the end of the civil war in 2006.

A major sticking point has been the fate of the former Maoist guerrillas, who have been living disarmed in “cantonments” since 2006. In November, it was agreed finally that only 6,500 of the 19,600 ex-fighters would be integrated into the security forces. They will be part of a new non-combat section of the army (dealing with “development-related activities, forest conservation, industrial security and crisis management”).

Since then, uproar within the Maoist ranks at the poor terms of the deal has pressured the leadership into taking a tougher stand on the rank of integrated Maoist officers. The leadership were also, at the time of writing, allegedly making integration of ex-guerrillas into the regular Nepali army conditional on other parties accepting a US-style presidential political system.

Maoist radicals are also protesting against the leadership’s decision to return property seized during the civil war, returning tenant farmers to insecurity.

Meanwhile, the government’s decision to increase fuel prices by 10% led to student protests blocking roads and burning tyres in the capital, Kathmandu, and the eastern town of Itahari, on 19 January.

Western Sahara

Solidarity activists are continuing to use the European Union (EU) as a lever of influence over Morocco, which has been illegally occupying the nation of Western Sahara since 1975.

The main issue is the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, which allows EU trawlers to fish in the coastal waters of both Morocco and occupied Western Sahara.

The renewal of the agreement for one year (cost 36m Euros) was voted down in the European parliament on 14 December, and Morocco promptly banned EU fishing boats. (There was a resulting protest by Spanish fisherfolk on 9 January.)

The European Commission was, at the time of writing, hastily pushing forward a new wording, which allegedly reduces the cost and the environmental impact of the fisheries agreement, and which requires Morocco to report regularly on the economic benefits of the agreement to the people of Western Sahara (something it has never done).

The annual Freedom House survey of political rights and civil liberties, released on 13 January, classed Western Sahara and Tibet as the two worst-rated territories in the world, on a par with countries such as North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan.

Drones news

Drone Wars UK held an important strategy day in Birmingham on 14 January. The group, coordinated by Chris Cole, has published its first annual briefing, exploring some of the key issues arising from the growing use of armed unmanned drones.

As the briefing’s introduction notes, a new UK-French drone is expected to be approved early in the New Year; the British Watchkeeper drone will finally be deployed sometime in the spring; RAF pilots will begin piloting armed Reaper drones over Afghanistan from the UK for the first time during the summer; and it is likely that drones will fly over London during the Olympics.



Guantanamo 10

Many of the 171 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay held a three-day hunger strike from 10-12 January to mark the detention centre’s tenth anniversary. Detainees also held a demonstration and sit-ins in the prison’s common area.

On 7 January, the London Guantanamo Campaign and others held a protest in Trafalgar Square to demand the release of the remaining British resident, Shaker Aamer, who marks his 10th year in Guantánamo on 14 February.

While a soul

Anti-prison protests were held around the world during the New Year period. In the UK, there were noise demonstrations outside Holloway women’s prison and a young offenders unit in London, a flash mob outside Gatwick detention centres, demos outside Brixton prison and Bristol’s Horfield prison, and a banner drop outside Cardiff prison. No arrests.

Death in Palestine

Mustafa Tamimi, a 28-year-old resident  of the West Bank village Nabi Saleh, was killed on 9 December while throwing stones at Israeli military vehicles during a weekly protest against the Israeli occupation. Mustafa was hit by a tear-gas projectile shot into his face at close range from an Israeli armoured army jeep. He died of his wounds the following morning. His funeral procession the next day was attacked by Israeli soldiers using the same type of tear gas canisters.

30 November

In the biggest strike in Britain in a generation, on 30 November, two million public sector workers took action against proposed cuts in public sector pensions. Hundreds of thousands marched in protest.

In London, Occupy activists took over the offices of the UK’s highest-paid chief executive officer, the head of the Xstrata mining corporation. They unfurled a banner from the roof, saying: “All Power to the 99%”.  There were 75 arrests.

Occupy UK update

Groups in CAPITALS were believed to be still occupying as PN went to press.

Bath: On 10 December, Occupy Bath announced it would leave its encampment in Queen’s Square. Group still active online.

Bournemouth: After briefly occupying a vacant restaurant, the group searches for its next home.

Bradford: In early November, city officials issued an eviction notice to the occupiers living on Centenary Square. No new location yet.

Brighton: A fire and severe weather left the campsite beyond repair in mid-December.

BIRMINGHAM: The group remains in the gardens behind Symphony Hall, where it had moved in the beginning of November.

Bristol: On 13 January, the group was served an eviction notice, which it will not contest.

Cardiff: High winds in early December shut down the camp outside the cathedral. Group remains active.

EDINBURGH: City officials have officially asked the camp to leave.

EXETER: On 17 January, Exeter Cathedral began eviction proceedings.

Glasgow: In mid-December, the group voted to give up its Kelvingrove campsite.

Hastings: There was a 24-hour camp to mark the N30 strikes.

Isle of Wight: The group operates on Twitter and Facebook and holds monthly meetings.

Leeds: The group voted unanimously to vacate its City Square location on 6 January.

LEICESTER: The group moved into a former pub on 17 December after a five-week camp on the High St.

LIVERPOOL: In mid-January, Occupy moved into the Tinlings Building: an unused office building without electricity, heating or running water.

London Bloomsbury: The student occupation of 53 Gordon Square was evicted on 22 December.

LONDON BANK OF IDEAS: The occupation in the former UBS office building was appealing against eviction as PN went to press.

LONDON FINSBURY SQUARE: The camp survived record winds and cold temperatures. Islington council is unable to evict the group (perhaps due to a lack of finances).

LONDON LSX (ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL): Appealing against eviction as PN went to press.

London Occupy Justice: There was a temporary squat in the former Old St magistrates’ court in mid-January, using it to hold trials, including a War Crimes Tribunal.

Manchester: Group forced to vacate its camp in Spinningfields.

Newcastle: By January, the group had left the Earl Grey monument.

NORWICH: The camp continues near the Haymarket.

NOTTINGHAM: 22 January was the 100th day that the camp had been in the Old Market Square.

Plymouth: On 16 January, the group vacated Jigsaw Garden.

PORTSMOUTH: The camp remains in Guildhall Square.

SHEFFIELD: In January, city officials began legal action to remove camp from outside Sheffield Cathedral.