News in brief

It is. Are you?

Radical media in Britain got a huge boost on 28 February, with the Real Media gathering in Manchester.

In the ‘Sustaining independent media’ workshop, Dave Boyle of the Media Reform Coalition evangelised for radical media taking on co-operative legal forms and issuing community shares to support themselves financially.

Other workshops included ‘Media agenda: racism & sexism’, ‘Conspiracies and how to avoid them’, and ‘Chomsky’s Propaganda Model of the mass media’ (that was us).

The chair of the opening plenary was Kam Sandhu (founder of RealFare and co-founder of Real Media). Keynote speakers included Samantha Asumadu (Media Diversified), Angela Haggerty (CommonSpace), Nafeez Ahmed, and Donnachadh McCarthy.

Follow-up events included Anti-Daily Mail Week (13–20 March) and ‘Occupy Rupert Murdoch’ in London (22–29 March).

In April, Real Media plans to launch a ‘new media platform bringing together the best of independent journalism’.

We have. Have you?

Action AWE organised a month of nonviolent action against British nuclear weapons in March, starting with Burghfield Lockdown (see Wales page), and including bike action by ‘Wheel Stop Trident’, cycling from London to the Burghfield nuclear weapon factory.

In Germany, a coalition of groups are organising a 65-day nonviolent blockade of Büchel nuclear weapons base in western Germany, from 26 March to 29 May (when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference is due to end).

An estimated 20 US nuclear bombs are stored at the German army airbase at Büchel – they’re scheduled to be replaced with more precise nuclear weapons.

They did. Did you?

21 March was ‘Fly Kites not drones’, organised by Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK. In Britain, kites were flown in Argyle, Axbridge, Bournemouth, Brighton, Dunblane, Edinburgh, Findhorn, Hastings, Liverpool, London, Loughborough, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton, and Stockport.

They could. Could you?

On 19 March, giant books shut the main gate of the Hancock drone base in New York state, USA.

Seven members of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars put up eight-foot-high copies of the UN Charter, Dirty Wars by Jeremy Scahill, Living Under Drones, and You Never Die Twice, the Reprieve report on drone warfare.

The seven were arrested and charged with trespass, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.

Charity ends at home

The media storm around the unmasking of ISIS executioner ‘Jihadi John’ in February provided an opportunity for the right-wing press to exert enormous pressure on anyone connected with the Muslim human rights group Cage.

Cage had revealed the enormous harassment and pressure that British citizen Mohammed Emwazi (‘Jihadi John’) had suffered from the British security services over several years, and argued that this was a major factor in his ‘radicalisation’.

The Quaker grant-making body, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) came under pressure from the charity commission to disassociate itself from Cage.

On 27 February, JRCT released a statement defending its past grants to Cage, saying that Cage had ‘played an important role in highlighting the ongoing abuses at Guantanamo Bay and at many other sites around the world’.

JRCT also said Cage was ‘asking legitimate questions about security service contact with those who have gone on to commit high-profile and horrific acts of violence’.

A week later, on 6 March, JRCT were forced to release a further statement, saying: ‘In the light of regulatory pressure, and to protect the interests of all our grantees and the other work of Trust, we have decided to publicly confirm that we will not fund Cage either now or in the future.’

The Roddick Foundation, set up by Anita Roddick of the Body Shop, had given a similar undertaking on 2 March.

Between them, JRCT and the Roddick Foundation had made grants to Cage totalling £291,000 between 2007 and 2014.

Cage spokesperson Amandla Thomas-Johnson said: ‘We thank them for their past support. Both of these charities have played a significant role in contributing to the development of Muslim civil society here in the UK.’

He continued: ‘Cage will remain committed to its principle of speaking truth to power and calling for accountability and transparency. We will not hesitate in performing our role as whistleblowers and as advocates for due process.’

Former Daily Telegraph journalists Peter Oborne and Alex Delmar-Morgan revealed on OpenDemocracy that the charity commission had ‘sent either letters or emails to at least three other Muslim charities (there could be more) pressurising them not to fund Cage’.

The pair expressed concern at the commission’s ‘unprecedented’ actions, observing: ‘Parliament has never asked the commission to punish organisations for saying stupid things or wildly unpopular things.’

Oborne and Delmar-Morgan suggested that the charity commission showed signs of ‘turning itself into a political regulator as well as a charitable one’.

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.