Forcible removal of Chagos Islanders
Expedition to the Chagos Islands and subsequent arrest of a member of Bideford Meeting
Our Friend, Jonathan Castle, of Bideford Quaker Meeting, has now returned from an expedition to the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean. In order to draw attention to the plight of the Chagos Islanders, who were forcibly removed from their islands by the UK government about forty years ago to enable the building of an American military base on Diego Garcia, Jon Castle and Pete Bouquet sailed a small boat from Malaysia to Diego Garcia. They said they were motivated by the 'Quaker ideal' that: "you should bear witness to a crime, even if you cannot stop it happening."
As they approached Diego Garcia, they were warned by the British authorities that they were infringing immigration laws, and were told to turn back. This they refused to do, and Jonathan Castle was arrested on 10th March 2008 and held for questioning. He was brought before a magistrate on Diego Garcia on 13th March, and charged with breaching the regulations of The British Indian Ocean Territory department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (B.I.O.T.). These regulations result from an agreement between the British and US Governments: "The B.I.O.T. Agreement . . . provides that access to Diego Garcia is restricted to United States and British military personnel, British officials, contract personnel who are subject to British immigration requirements, and scientific researchers whom Britain, at its discretion, may allow on the island if their research does not unreasonably interfere with the military mission". (See http://tinyurl.com/55p7e8)
He pleaded not guilty on the basis that he was committing a lesser crime to draw attention to the greater crime perpetrated by the British Government in the illegal forcible removal of the Chagos islanders from their homes to the islands of Mauritius and the Seychelles.
He was, nevertheless, found guilty, ordered to pay a fine of £3 000, and given a six-month suspended prison sentence. He refused to pay the fine, whereupon his boat was impounded, and he was deported to Singapore on 22nd March. He arrived back in Britain on 23rd March, and attended Meeting for Worship in Bideford on 30th March.
We are aware of reports of the expedition and the subsequent arrest having been made in The Guardian, The Friend, The Independent Catholic news, BBC Radio Devon (when Len Stevens, of this meeting was interviewed about the matter), and The North Devon Journal (on its website).
The Recording Clerk’s office of the Quakers issued the following press release on 12th March 2008:
"Quaker comment on Diego Garcia arrests"
British Quakers today lent their support to the concerns of the two human rights campaigners arrested off Diego Garcia after protesting about the island’s use in British and US military operations.
The men, Jon Castle, a Quaker from Devon, and Peter Bouquet, said they were motivated by the Quaker ideal that "you should bear witness to a crime, even if you cannot stop it happening." They had sailed their boat, the Musichana, over 2000 miles to carry out their protest.
Foreign Secretary David Milliband admitted in February that the island had been used as a stopping point for the extraordinary rendition of two detainees.
Gillian Ashmore, Chief Executive Officer for the Quakers, said:
‘People matter. In the end human rights are about people being treated like people who matter. Quakers are concerned about abuses of power and acts which may amount to torture. Our Yearly Meeting has called on government to do all in its power to prevent the use of all forms of torture. We support the calls by British MPs and human rights groups for an independent inquiry into the use of Diego Garcia by the CIA.’ "
John Ward (Clerk to Bideford Quakers) 28 April 2008
Editor's note: For information about the Chagos Islanders click on Chagos Islanders Support Association. The Government's latest (final?) appeal against the decisions of lower courts is to be heard by the House of Lords on 30 June 2008. For the government's admission that Diego Garcia was used for extraodinary rendition despite previous denials see The Guardian, 21 February 2008. For the latest allegations of British complicity in torture see Amnesty blogs.