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The craic in Cairo

On 3 March, members of the US peace group Code Pink landed in Egypt en route to an International Women’s Day conference in Gaza. At Cairo airport, conference co-organiser Medea Benjamin was detained overnight by the police, without explanation. Officials then violently handcuffed her, dislocating her shoulder and breaking her arm, and put her on a plane to Turkey. The US embassy refused assistance throughout.

Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and Ann Patterson of the Northern Ireland Peace People, were detained at Cairo airport on 4 March on their way to the Gaza conference, and deported back to London.

Crackdown in Cairo

There has been a serious and rapid deterioration of the human rights situation in Egypt, a coalition of 15 international NGOs told the UN human rights council in early March, including ‘repeated excessive use of force, including lethal force, by the security forces, leading to the death of hundreds of protesters’.

Officially, 650 civilians died during the clearing of just one pro-Morsi sit-in in Cairo last August, in Rabaa al-Adaweya Square. An independent monitoring group, Wiki Thawra, puts the true death toll at 969.

Smackdown in Cairo

In mid-March, four senior Egyptian officials told the Associated Press that 16,000 Egyptians had been jailed over the past eight months as part of the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.

A new law that bans all protests without a police permit has led to the arrest of secular activists as well as Brotherhood supporters.

Secular activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was arrested with 24 others in November for organising a protest without permission and for assaulting police – charges he denies. A leading figure in the 2011 uprising, Abdel-Fattah was released on bail on 23 March.

Three other well-known secular activists have been less lucky, receiving three-year sentences for the same offences.

Jazdown in Cairo

Four al-Jazeera journalists detained since December for allegedly aiding a ‘terrorist organisation’ (the Muslim Brotherhood) were about to go on trial as PN went to press. Another half-a-dozen Egyptian journalists remained in prison.

Samah Ibrahim, a reporter for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice newspaper, received a one-year sentence on 17 March. She was convicted of public order offences allegedly committed while photographing a Muslim Brotherhood protest in Cairo in January.

The chief editor of Freedom and Justice, Adel Al-Ansary, chief editor of the FJP newspaper, said in February that Ibrahim was suffering from a nervous breakdown.

Freedom for free

On 10 March, Freedom, the anarchist newspaper, announced that it was moving its content online, complemented by a regular freesheet.

Freedom began life as Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism in 1886. Later, between 1936 and 1945, it became Spain and the World, Revolt!, and finally War Commentary. In 1945, it returned as an unsubtitled Freedom, as it has remained to this day.

In their statement on ceasing print publication for sale, the volunteer Freedom collective reported that annual losses have been amounting to £3,500, with only 29 shops, social centres and individuals selling the paper, and only 225 paying subscribers. Printers Aldgate Press had helped to keep the paper going with an effective subsidy ‘of nearly £10,000 a year’, according to the collective.

The collective wrote: ‘We had hoped that Freedom would be adopted as THE paper of the anarchist movement. Despite a great deal of goodwill from anarchist groups and individuals over the years, sadly this has not been the case.

‘Although Freedom Press has changed from a political group with a particular point of view to a resource for anarchism as a whole, we have not managed to shake the legacy of the past and get different groups to back it as a collective project. We hope an online version and freesheet will make that possible.’

Freedom Bookshop and Freedom Press (the publishers and book distributors) will continue as before. A special final edition of the paper will be released for the London Anarchist Bookfair in October

Ashes for life

Christian peace activists marked Ash Wednesday, 5 March, with civil disobedience and public acts of repentance. In London, members of Pax Christi, the London Catholic Worker and Christian CND prayed and circled the MoD building, calling for the government to cancel the Trident nuclear submarine programme. Ray Towey, Martin Newell and Scott Albrecht marked the building with crosses using charcoal and ash blessed at the beginning of the service. Scott was the only person to be detained; he will discover if he is to be charged in May.

In California, USA, five people were arrested during an Ash Wednesday service at the gates of Beale air force base, site of the Global Hawk surveillance drone, which carries out reconnaissance for the armed Predator drone. Demonstrators spread ashes memorialising the children killed by US drones overseas.

In Liverpool, Pax Christi, CND, Friends of Palestine, and others remembered the victims of drone strikes in a ceremony outside the University of Liverpool, involved in drones research. At Faslane naval base, the Glasgow Catholic Worker held a rainswept service.

The arrested prosecute!

Leg irons, electric stun batons and electric stun guns were unlawfully promoted for sale at the DSEI arms fair last September.

That is the allegation of a group of activists arrested at DSEi in September 2013 (but whose prosecutions were discontinued). In mid-March, they began private prosecutions against two companies who exhibited at the East London arms fair.

The activists summonsed Magforce International (from France) and Tianjin MyWay International Trading (from China); companies ejected from DSEI after Green MP Caroline Lucas asked questions about them in parliament on 11 September.

Jesus leads to jail!

Father Martin Newell was sentenced to 28 days in Wandsworth prison on 15 March for non-payment of £565 in fines. These arose from nonviolent protests against Britain’s wars abroad, drones warfare and Trident nuclear weapons.

The Catholic priest, shortly to move from the London Catholic Worker to a Passionist project in Birmingham, told Westminster magistrates’ court: ‘Jesus taught us to love not just our neighbours but also our enemies. He showed us by his life and example how to resist evil not with violence but with loving, persistent, firm, active nonviolence.’

20 supporters held vigil at Wandsworth prison on 22 March.

Muslim accused!

Hundreds demonstrated in Birmingham and London at the end of February, protesting at the arrest of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Begg, who remains in custody, denies charges of ‘providing terrorist training’ in Syria or ‘funding terrorism overseas’.

After his passport was withdrawn in February, Begg stated that the real reason he was continually harassed was that Cage (formerly ‘Cageprisoners’) and he were at the forefront of investigating ‘evidence that British governments, past and present, have been wilfully complicit in torture.’

You can write to Moazzam (please don’t discuss his case): Moazzam Begg, A8423DD, HMP Belmarsh, Western Way, Thamesmead, London SE28 0EB.

Prisoners shuffled!

Of the three US ‘Transform Now’ Plowshares activists given long sentences in February for an action at the military uranium enrichment plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, only one has a firm address so far: Michael Walli, 92108-020,
FCI McKean, Federal Correctional Institution, PO Box 8000,
Bradford PA 16701, USA.

You can find updates on addresses for Megan Rice and Greg Boertje-Obed at:

Nepali hunger strike

147 days into their second hunger strike, the parents of Krishna Prasad Adhikari were visited by the Nepali prime minister in a Kathmandu hospital on 22 March. Sushil Koirala pleaded with Nanda Prasad Adhikari to end his protest (his wife Ganga Maya Adhikari, also on a protein drip, was unconscious).

Krishna Adhikari was abducted and brutally murdered in June 2004 while visiting his grandparents in the Chitwan district of Nepal, after sitting his school-leaving exams. Though his relatives immediately identified Maoist militants who they believed to have carried out the murder, no action was taken until last September, nine years later. One of the four accused was arrested, after a hunger strike by Krishna Adhikari’s parents had reached its 47th day. When the suspect was freed, in violation of official commitments to the couple, they resumed their hunger strike.

In an open letter to the UN high commissioner for human rights on 20 March, seven leading Nepali human rights activists wrote: ‘this case has become the litmus test as to whether the run of impunity in Nepal will end’.

No Nepali party has shown enthusiasm for the setting up of a genuine truth and reconciliation commission that would bring justice for the victims of the 10-year Nepali civil war.

Western Sahara

Oddly, the UN monitoring mission in occupied Western Sahara is the only UN mission to lack a human rights role. A year ago, the US caused ructions by unexpectedly giving its support to the idea of adding a human rights dimension to MINURSO.

Since that scare, Morocco, which has occupied Western Sahara since 1975, has been taking steps to head off pressure at this April’s MINURSO renewal meeting.

The government has published a draft law – not yet passed by parliament – ending the trial of civilians in military tribunals. It has refused, however, to re-try Sahrawi activists already convicted in Moroccan military trials.


On 21 March, imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan re-dedicated himself to the year-old peace process (see PN 2566, 2564-65). In a Kurdish new year (Newroz) message, Ocalan said: ‘We were not afraid of resisting [with violence]; we won’t be afraid of making peace.’

Ocalan’s Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) withdrew many of its fighters from Turkish territory last year. The year-long ceasefire would end unless the government carried out significant reforms within a fortnight of local elections at the end of March, a senior PKK commander, warned on 17 March.

On 18 March, the European court of human rights condemned Turkey’s ‘inhuman’ treatment of Ocalan during the first 10 years of his imprisonment.