News in brief

Bike for Peace

On 27 February, Bike for Peace launched its 2019 ride from Westminster Hall in the houses of parliament, London.

The tour will go onto France, India, China, Australia, New Zealand and the US. It will promote the need for a nuclear-weapons-free world, the value of cycling as a mode of transport, and the importance of the UN for nuclear disarmament.

A Norwegian group, Bike for Peace was established in 1978 by Tore Naerland, a 90 percent blind peace campaigner who rides on a tandem bike.

Tore spoke at the London launch alongside Caroline Lucas MP, Sean Morris of Nuclear-Free Local Authorities and Mayors for Peace.

Grow Heathrow

On 26 February, bailiffs seized buildings in the front half of Grow Heathrow, the squatted community garden in the village of Sipson.

The project was set up in 2010 to support the residents of Sipson in resisting the expansion of Heathrow airport to build a third runway.

At the time of going to press (19 March), Grow Heathrow members had moved to the back of the plot and were intending to stay ‘indefinitely’. They had relocated ‘plants, books, tools, bikes, solar panels and even the wind turbine’ to the backlands, and had built a new kitchen (and a new pizza oven).

Western Sahara

The government of Morocco will go a long way to prevent Westerners hearing criticism of its policies in Western Sahara, which it has illegally occupied since 1975.

The government reportedly forced the Arab World Institute (AWI) in Paris to cancel a concert by Saharawi singer Aziza Brahim, due to sing on 10 March as part of an ‘Arabofolies’ festival dedicated to women and resistance.

According to RFI, the French equivalent to the BBC World Service radio station, Moroccan diplomats put pressure on AWI sponsors – who threatened to pull out unless the concert was cancelled.

The AWI is funded mainly by the French government, but also receives support from Arab League states – most recently from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to the AWI website.

Aziza Brahim, who was born and raised in Saharawi refugee camps, has performed at major venues around the world, including at Womad.

l In a major blow to Saharawis, the European parliament voted on 12 February to adopt a fisheries agreement with Morocco that allows EU boats to exploit Saharawi waters.

This was despite a February 2018 ruling by the European court of justice that this would be illegal without the consent of the Saharawi people.

Defender detained

On 6 March, an Israeli military court extended for another six months the detention without charge of a Palestinian human rights defender. As usual in such cases, the alleged evidence against Ayman Nasser has been kept secret.

Ayman is the co-ordinator of the legal unit of Palestinian NGO Addameer (Conscience), the prisoner support and human rights association. He was arrested in his home in the village of Safa, west of Ramallah on the West Bank, last September.

This is the fourth time that Ayman has been detained by Israeli forces without charge or trial. The last time, in 2014, he was held for over a year.

Addameer sees Ayman’s case as part of a systematic targeting of Palestinian human rights defenders in the Occupied Territories. It undermines the ability of the Palestinian society to oppose illegal actions by the occupation.

Addameer points out: ‘human rights defenders’ ability to document the occupation’s violations and defend the fundamental rights of their people, is the basis for their protection under international law.’

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, at the end of January 2019, there were 5,298 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners being held in Israel prisons, including 293 from the Gaza Strip.

Giving Trident notice

An independent Scotland should give the UK government a strict deadline for removing the Trident from Scottish soil.

That’s the message of a motion going to the 27–28 April party conference of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The motion calls on the party to develop a detailed ‘roadmap’, ‘a practical description of the process and timescale to safely remove nuclear weapons at the very earliest opportunity on Scotland regaining our independence’.

Faslane, just north of Glasgow, is the home of Britain’s four Trident submarines – which carry all the UK’s nuclear weapons.


Indians and Pakistanis used social media to try to prevent war at the end of February.

After a Pakistan-based Kashmiri insurgent group blew up an army convoy in Indian-occupied Kashmir on 14 February, Indian fighter jets crossed into Pakistani airspace on 27 February, prompting a retaliatory strike later the same day by Pakistani jets.

Two Indian planes were shot down and the situation was very tense.

US news agency CNN analysed the response to these events on Twitter, and found that more than 128,500 tweets were published over 27–28 February using the hashtag#SayNoToWar.

At the peak, at noon on 27 February, 2,000 tweets were sent every 10 minutes.

Say yes to INF

On 1 February, the US government announced that it was no longer bound by the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, and that it would withdraw completely in August.

On 4 March, the Russian government officially suspended its participation in the treaty as well.

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, described the US action as ‘a reckless move’.

The INF treaty banned all US and Soviet ground-launched missiles with ranges between 310 and 3,400 miles (500 – 5,500km).

The US charges that Russia has developed a cruise missile with a forbidden range (the US calls it the SSC-8; Russia calls it the 9M729). Russia counters that some US armed drones, and some new ‘target missiles’ developed for testing missile defences, break the spirit if not the letter of the INF treaty.

The US department of defence indicated in mid-March that in the autumn it would begin testing two new missiles that would have been banned under the INF treaty: a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of about 620 miles (1,000km); the other a ballistic missile with a range of 1,830–2,500 miles (3,000–4,000km).

Both would be conventional weapons, the Pentagon said.

Free Diego Garcia

Britain must hand the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean back to Mauritius – and that includes the largest island, Diego Garcia, where the US has built a massive military base. That is the non-binding advisory opinion of the world court, delivered on 25 February, as requested by the UN general assembly.

In the 1960s, Britain detached the Chagos archipelago from Mauritius and deported 2,000 Chagossians in order to hang onto the islands when Mauritius became independent in 1968, and create a blank slate for the US base.

The international court of justice says Britain should complete the decolonisation by restoring the Chagos Islands to Mauritius. The issue now goes back to the general assembly.

Not proud of BAE

Over 200 people have signed a petition calling on Pride in Surrey to drop arms manufacturer BAE Systems as a sponsor of its 10 August parade in Woking.

The petition asks the organisers of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) event to apologise and to ‘commit never to accept money from any who benefit from arming oppressive governments’.

One government named is Saudi Arabia, which is targeting civilians and causing a famine in Yemen – and which also imprisons, whips and executes LGBT+ people.