News in brief

Chelsea free

Sam Archie: On 17 January, in one of his last acts as US president, Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning’s sentence from 35 years down to seven years. The transgender military whistleblower is now scheduled to be released on 17 May. (PN is holding a party at Housmans bookshop – see p10. )

Veterans for Peace UK said: ‘Among her achievements was to prove to other military personnel that they were correct to question the wars and entitled to refuse, resist and disobey.’

The executive director of the US Transgender Law Centre, Kris Hayashi, wrote: ‘In its treatment of Chelsea, a transgender woman, the United States government has proven it cannot detain transgender people humanely. The government tortured Chelsea by subjecting her to extended solitary confinement, denying her medical care, punishing her for attempting suicide, and forcing her to serve her time in an all-male prison.

‘Chelsea’s experience is all too common for TGNC [transgender and gender nonconforming] people in prison, particularly transgender women of colour. Chelsea has already served longer than any other whistleblower in United States history, and continued imprisonment would likely have been fatal for her. It is time for Chelsea to come home and be free of abusive confinement.’

I want to break free

An unarmed British Trident missile went wildly off-course during a test in June 2016, and was destroyed off the coast of Florida, US sources told CNN on 23 January, following a report in the Sunday Times.

This information was not given to the house of commons before it voted to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system in July.

Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: ‘A missile veering off course is deeply concerning. Imagine such a failure occurring in a “real-world” situation - it could lead to the slaughter of millions of people in an ally’s country.’

Fossil Free

On 13 December, Southwark council became Britain’s second local authority to divest from fossil fuel investments.

The cabinet member for finance, modernisation and performance, Fiona Colley, made a ‘commitment’ to divest the £1.2bn pension fund from fossil fuels long-term, a decision based on ‘ethical practice’ and on ‘the financial risk of investing in traditional energy sources, which will ultimately become obsolete’.

Fossil Free announced that global commitments to divest had reached 688 institutions across 76 countries, representing $5 trillion in assets under management.

In December, Fossil Free UK launched ‘Divest Parliament’, for MP’s £487m pension fund:

Ship kept in

On 19 December, a demonstration was held outside the Haifa district court in Israel in support of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition’s demand for the return of the Women’s Boat to Gaza, the Zaytouna–Oliva.

As reported last issue, Israeli forces boarded the yacht in international waters on 5 October as it tried to break the siege of Gaza. Since then, the Zaytouna–Oliva has been kept in the Israeli port of Ashdod.

The Israeli supreme court returned the Estelle to the Swedish Ship to Gaza last August, four years after it was illegally seized.

Sessions sit-in

On 3 January, six members of the US ‘National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’ (NAACP) were arrested after they occupied the Mobile, Alabama, offices of president Donald Trump’s nominee for US attorney-general.

The civil rights group was protesting at Jeff Sessions’ nomination because of his racist and sexist words and actions, and his record on civil rights, voting rights and criminal justice reform.

Those arrested included including NAACP president Cornell William Brooks.

The following week the group Ultraviolet brought five survivors of sexual assault to meet with senators to confront Sessions’s record of violence against women.

In and out

This is just three days of news of Palestinians interned without charge or trial by the Israeli government (‘administrative detention’).

On 15 January, journalist and former 94-day hunger striker Mohammed al-Qeeq declared an open-ended hunger strike following his re-arrest by Israeli occupation forces. The next day, a rally was held at Ramallah’s Manara Square demanding his immediate release. Al-Qeeq is one of over 20 Palestinian journalists in Israeli prisons.

On 16 January, Abdel-Karim Shiyoukhi, 18, was given six months’ administrative detention, despite the Israeli police earlier ordering him to be released. The same day, Palestinian legislative council member Hassan Yousef had his detention without charge or trial extended for the fourth time. There are seven members of the Palestinian parliament currently in Israeli prisons.

On 17 January, at least 13 Palestinians were arrested in dawn raids throughout the West Bank.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the now-banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement, was released the same day after nine months in prison, during which he was held in solitary confinement. Salah was not a detainee; an Israeli court convicted him of incitement to violence and racism in 2015 based on a sermon he gave in 2007.

Nepal peace process

The Nepali authorities have failed to deliver justice for human rights abuses during either the 10-year civil war or the anti-constitution protests in the low-lying Madesh region in late 2015.

So says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its World Report 2017, published on 12 January.

‘While there have been some arrests for the killings of members of the police forces during the [2015] protests, there has been no movement on justice for the civilians who were killed, which included some children. A commission set up to inquire into these killings remains without a proper mandate, terms of reference, or a budget.’

HRW adds that ‘millions of victims of Nepal’s devastating April and May 2015 earthquakes continued to languish in makeshift shelters and temporary camps, with Nepali political parties squabbling over how to disburse over US$4 billion in relief and reconstructions funds.’

Western Sahara

In mid-January, EU and French authorities were asked to seized the cargo of a ship accused of bringing fish oil from occupied Western Sahara to France.

Polisario, the national liberation movement of Western Sahara, argued that the shipment was illegal following a 21 December ruling by the European court of justice.

The ECJ decided that trade agreements between the EU and Morocco do not apply to the territory of Western Sahara, illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. The fish oil shipment carried by the Key Bey had been licensed by the Morocco government – which has no authority to do so, according to the ECJ.

Turkish war

In late January, amid ongoing mass arrests, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured parliamentary approval for constitutional reforms that will widen his powers as president, and may allow him to stay in power until 2029.

Back in 2013, according to Foreign Affairs, Erdogan calculated that he could win these changes by making peace with the Kurdish PKK insurgency, and securing Kurdish political support for his presidential ambitions.

He gave up on that in 2015, and switched to making war on the Kurdish minority and mobilising nationalism instead. After the failed coup against him last summer, Erdogan began a huge wave of repression in which over 120,000 people have lost their jobs, and over 40,000 have been arrested.

Hundreds of arrest warrants have been issued just for installing the byLock ‘secure’ messaging app, supposedly only used by followers of Fethullah Gülen, blamed for the coup attempt.

The repression is being documented by Turkey Purge: