News in brief

Hoodies for Trayvon

On 21 March, Occupy activists joined thousands of others in Union Square Park, New York, to protest at the shooting dead of unarmed 17-year old Trayvon Martin.

The young African-American was killed by a mixed-race Hispanic ‘neighbourhood watch’ coordinator on 26 February. George Zimmerman followed Trayvon because he looked ‘suspicious’ (Trayvon was wearing a hoodie).

Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, on the grounds that ‘no crime had been committed’. It was not till 11 April, after national protests, that Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Salah cleared

On 7 April, a British court lifted a home office ban on sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the largest Palestinian political party in Israel.

In June 2011, after entering the UK for a lecture tour, Salah was detained by British police and served with a deportation order on the grounds that he might incite racial hatred.

After three weeks’ detention, he was released on appeal but subjected to electronic tagging, a night-time curfew and daily reporting to a police station.

Salah has spent the last 10 months in the UK fighting to clear his name. The upper immigration tribunal ruled that his appeal had succeeded ‘on all grounds’, and all four charges against him were thrown out.

Yemen drone strikes

US president Barack Obama personally intervened to prevent the release of a Yemeni journalist who revealed that a 2009 airstrike that killed 14 women and 21 children was launched by US drones, not the Yemeni air force.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was jailed in Yemen for five years in 2010 on trumped-up terrorism charges following a trial condemned by Amnesty International.

According to an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes in Yemen have risen sharply over the past two years (with 20 confirmed and 14 unconfirmed attacks).

They are now at the same level as attacks on Pakistan.

Meadows not guilty

Prosecutors failed to convict student protester Alfie Meadows of violent disorder at a trial in mid-April. The 21-year-old suffered a brain injury after being struck by a police baton at an anti-tuition fees demo in December 2010.

Though three other defendants were acquitted of the same offence, jurors were unable to reach a verdict in the case of Meadows and a fifth man, Zac King.

As PN went to press, the crown prosecution service were deciding whether to bring a fresh

Occupy the river

The Oxford and Cambridge boat race was stopped on 7 April when an ‘anti-elitist’ campaigner, Trenton Oldfield, swam in front of the boats in a scene reminiscent of the 1913 Derby when suffragette Emily Wilding Davison deliberately threw herself in front of the king’s horse.

The boat race had to be restarted.

Oldfield was arrested and charged with causing ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ under the Public Order Act.

Occupy the marshes

Six Occupy activists were arrested at an Olympics occupation on 10 April. Occupy arrived at Porter’s Field, Leyton Marsh, on 24 March, to support locals trying to block the construction of Olympic practice basketball courts. Work on the site was suspended for two weeks because of the occupation.

After the high court granted the landowners, the Lea Valley regional park authority, an eviction order, bailiffs arrived at 7.30am on 10 April.

When 30 occupiers refused to move, police were called, who used a section of the Public Order Act to impose a maximum time period to the assembly, and then arrest six people who still refused to leave.

More silence

On 3 April, the international criminal court (ICC) finally decided that it could not decide whether Palestine could become a member nation of the court. The Palestinian Authority had filed a request three years earlier, in the aftermath of Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in Operation Cast Lead.

The ICC ruled it had no authority to decide the question of statehood, which was a matter for the UN general assembly.

So far the only UN body that has accepted Palestine as a member is UNESCO. However, on 22 March, the UN human rights council voted by 36 to 1 (the US) to launch an enquiry into Israel’s plans for constructing fresh housing for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  

More Bobby Sands

Some 1,200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails began an open-ended hunger strike on 17 April.

They were protesting against what they call ‘humiliating’ measures in Israeli prisons, including strip searches of visiting family members and night searches of prison cells.

On 21 February, Khader Adnan ended a 66-day hunger strike after the Israeli prison authorities agreed that he should be released at the end of his four-month detention.

On 21 March, Hana Shalabi ended her fast after 43 days: she was deported to Gaza where she has to stay for three years (Hana is from the West Bank).

Doctors who saw the two near the ends of their hunger strikes said they were ‘near death’.

Western Sahara

Morocco’s attempts to manipulate a report on its illegal occupation of Western Sahara has caused a diplomatic incident at the United Nations security council (UNSC).

A hard-hitting 28-page report to the UNSC by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was watered down after interference by Morocco and Morocco’s closest great power sponsor, France.

Ban wrote that MINURSO, the UN’s monitoring mission in Western Sahara, was ‘unable to exercise fully’ its monitoring function.

The final text says the agency’s access to the local population ‘is controlled [by Moroccan authorities], which has an effect on interaction with the full spectrum of local interlocutors’.

The original text said the movements of UN staff were ‘closely monitored with the consequent chilling effect’ on their interaction with the local residents.

There were other modifications. However, even in the final report, Ban noted that Morocco may have spied on the agency: ‘There were... indications that the confidentiality of communications between MINURSO headquarters and New York was, at least on occasion, compromised’.


Nepal crisis

The Nepali peace process, which has followed the negotiated end of the 10-year civil war in 2006, continues to stagger on.

One of the biggest problems in the process has been the fate of 19,600 registered Maoist ex-guerrillas, promised integration into the Nepali security forces (or demobilisation and ‘rehabilitation’) as part of the 2006 comprehensive peace accord.

On 20 April, the second round of ‘re-grouping’ came to an end, with thousands of ex-fighters opting to retire. Thousands had already been disqualified by a UN-managed ‘verification’ process.

Balananda Sharma, coordinator of the all-party army integration special committee, announced that only 3,129 ex-combatants remained in Maoist cantonments awaiting integration.

Mysteriously, this is less than half the number (6,500) allowed under the all-party agreement signed last November. It is a third of the 9,000 ex-combatants who expressed a wish to join the army in February (see PN 2543).

Despite this, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (‘Prachanda’) is said to have publicly boasted: ‘We have laddu [sweets] in both of our hands after the integration.’

There are reports of violent clashes between Maoist officers and the lower ranks in the cantonments, in the run up to the 20 April announcement.

On 19 April, a group of previously-disqualified ex-fighters picketed Maoist party headquarters in Kathmandu.

It’s not clear how disaffection in Maoist ranks is going to affect the peace process.

Courts for peace!

On 19 April, after a three-day trial, Harrogate magistrates’ court ruled that long-time peace activist Lindis Percy had ‘no case to answer’.

Lindis had been charged with ‘wilfully obstructing’ three Ministry of Defence police officers in the execution of their duty outside the spy base Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire on 16 August 2011.

District judge Jane Goodwin found the officers involved had selective memories, with inconsistencies within and between their testimonies, among many other damning deficiencies.  

Olympics for Peace?

At the end of March, Christian peace groups Pax Christi and Westminster Justice and Peace wrote an open letter to the organising committee for the London Olympic games, expressing ‘some dismay’ at the central role allocated to the armed forces in the welcome and victory ceremonies at the Olympics, and suggesting a re-balancing of the event.

The groups are part of a Christian network promoting ‘The 100 Days of Peace’, the sacred Olympic truce.

The network believes that the Olympic games provide an opportunity to promote and reassert a commitment to peace and reconciliation, unity, internationalism and cooperation.

Drones for peace?

On 2 April, nearly 100 activists from around the country demonstrated outside the ‘27th Bristol International UAV [drone] Systems Conference’. With a soundtrack of live punk, several protesters scaled the walls of Armada House, the conference building, to unveil a Palestinian flag.

Seven demonstrators were arrested; one of them for ‘wobbling the glass’ of the conference centre.

Despite the presence of major arms companies, conference organisers denied that military activities were on the agenda, stating: ‘This Conference does not condone the use of these unmanned aircraft systems in a pre-emptive way against possible terrorist targets.’

Tweets for peace!

Peace News is slowly edging its way into the 21st century

In April, as well as producing hundreds of tweets from the ‘International Symposium on Nonviolent Movements and the Barrier of Fear’ (see left), PN managed to get information about our brilliant Guy Smallman Afghanistan photo exhibition in Cardiff massively retweeted.

The message got out to 22,765 people via How to Enjoy CARDIFF, the Welsh Refugee Council, the Muslim Council of Wales, theSprout (a site for Cardiff young people), and others.