News in brief

Can’t go over it

There are now fewer nuclear bombs on each British Trident submarine. So said British defence secretary Michael Fallon on 20 January.

The number of warheads on each Trident nuclear submarine – and on Trident replacement submarines – is down from 48 to 40.

Nuclear Information Service commented: ‘Although undertaken as a cost-saving measure resulting from the need to reduce the defence equipment budget and public spending following the 2008 banking crisis, the reduction in nuclear forces has been presented internationally by the UK government as a step taken towards meeting its disarmament obligations.’

Can’t go under it

The Monitoring Group has launched a petition asking for the official secrets act to be lifted in relation to former undercover police officer Peter Francis, so that he can reveal what he knows about police spying on campaigning groups.

Francis, who infiltrated anti-racism and trade union groups in the 1990s, has apologised to those he targeted, and said that he would be willing to speak to a public inquiry.

Home secretary Theresa May announced a statutory public inquiry into the special demonstration squad and other undercover units on 12 March.

Got to go through it

On 6 March, Occupy Democracy was granted permission to take the mayor of London to court over his decision to fence off Parliament Square.

The high court allowed a judicial review, focused on Boris Johnson’s decision to put large metal fences up halfway through a 10-day protest in October 2014.

Police said the barriers were needed for repair work and maintenance of the grass – which never seemed to take place.

We’re not scared

The Metropolitan police and Westminster council were forced to back down in February after first telling Million Women Rise and the Campaign Against Climate Change that they would need to hire ‘approved’ private security firms to manage traffic for their separate marches in central London on 7 March.

The groups were asked to hire one ‘certified steward’ (on £120 a day) for every 20 people attending each protest – costing perhaps £10,000.

Netpol, the network for police monitoring, commented: ‘The Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged police attempts to impose similar conditions for one of its marches and the Met eventually admitted private security was not a legal requirement. “Wrap Up Trident” organisers used this knowledge to force the police to back down.’

Yay Sylvia!

On 18 March, Yorkshire peace activist Sylvia Boyes, 72, was sentenced to 14 days in New Hall prison for not paying a fine arising from an anti-arms trade protest.

Sylvia had been fined £100 and ordered to pay £340 court costs after being found guilty of obstructing the highway at the defence and security equipment international (DSEI) arms fair in East London in September 2013.

Yay Anne-Marie!

On 3 February, Campaign Against Arms Trade staffer Anne-Marie O’Reilly strode onto the stage of the annual ADS arms industry dinner at the Park Lane Hilton in London. She took the microphone and urged the arms dealers present to consider a career change. (Also present were ministers, over 40 MPs, and many top-ranking civil servants and ministry of defence officials.)

Anne-Marie’s opening words were: ‘I’m here tonight because my child is going to be born in four months’ time.... He’s going to be born into a country where one million people have needed to use a food bank in the last year.’

She wrote later: ‘I don’t want my son to grow up in a world where arms dealers can make millions of pounds through encouraging war. I want him to grow up in a world with different priorities, a world that puts social and environmental justice ahead of militarism and war.’

There’s a YouTube video at:

Yay Rafael & Safa!

Reporters from Angola and Saudi Arabia shared the ‘journalism’ Freedom of Expression award for 2015 given by Index on Censorship on 18 March.

Rafael Marques de Morais has exposed government and industry corruption and human rights abuses in Angola despite repeated arrests and threats, including a 40-day detention without charge.

After filing charges of crimes against humanity against seven Angolan generals, Marques de Morais was counter-sued for $1.6m by those same generals. He goes on trial on 23 April, facing an additional 15 charges of defamation, and up to 14 years in prison.

The additional charges arise from the testimonies regarding torture and killings that he brought together in his book Diamantes de Sangue: Tortura e Corrupção em Angola (Blood Diamonds: Torture and Corruption in Angola), published in Portugal in 2011.

The other winner of the journalism award was Safa Al Ahmad, who spent the last three years covertly filming a mass uprising in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

She has been advised for her own safety not to return to her country, after extensive and violent online threats.

Awards were also given in three other categories: art, digital activism and campaigning.

Nepali majority

The 16 months since the re-election of the Nepali constituent assembly (CA2) have seen fierce arguments between the political establishment (the two largest parties, the Nepali Congress and the UML communists) and 30 outsider parties (Maoists and ethnic minority groups).

The big parties have wanted to use their parliamentary majority to pass their version of the constitution, while the Maoists and their allies have demanded that the constitution be agreed by consensus.

24 demonstrators were injured when tens of thousands of people marched in Kathmandu on 28 February in favour of a consensus decision-making process. Police used tear gas and water cannon.

As PN went to press, CA2 was finally heading towards a vote to pass a new constitution.

Separately, on 26 February, the supreme court annulled the power of the truth and reconciliation commission to grant amnesties for war crimes committed during the Nepali civil war (see PN 2572-2573).

Western Sahara

Western Sahara is part of Morocco. That’s what Edinburgh-based oil and gas exploration company Cairn Energy said in its latest annual report, released on 27 March. Cairn was recently involved in drilling a test well in the Boujdour oilfield, which it describes in its report as a ‘well in Morocco, offshore Western Sahara’.

In fact, Western Sahara has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975, and the oil exploration Cairn is involved in is criminal.

That’s the view of the UN legal expert who drew up the authoritative opinion on this question for the UN security council in February 2002.

Hans Corell noted in February 2015 that the oil companies exploring off Western Sahara claim their work is ‘in conformity with my 2002 legal opinion’: ‘Regrettably, it is not.’

On 23 April, the issue of ‘conflict tomatoes’ (grown in Western Sahara but labelled in British supermarkets as ‘from Morocco’) will be raised in court as the Western Sahara Campaign seeks a judicial review of tax breaks assigned by the authorities.

Turkish Kurdistan

It’s time to disarm. That was the message of imprisoned Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Öcalan to the PKK armed Kurdish insurgency, delivered publicly on 21 March, to mark Kurdish new year.

Öcalan asked the PKK to convene a special conference this spring to put down the gun.

Other Kurds are less trusting of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who recently opposed a key Kurdish demand, an outside group to monitor the peace process.