Bearing witness to a crime

‘You had better examine your consciences,’ Jon Castle told officials at the hastily convened British magistrates’ court. He and fellow crew member Pete Bouquet, part of the ‘People’s Navy’, had been put on trial for entering the three-mile (five-kilometre) exclusion zone around Diego Garcia which forms part of the British Indian Ocean Territory and is home to a key US air and naval base.

The two British nationals, both lifelong environmental and human rights campaigners, had sailed 2,000 miles from Thailand aboard the recently renovated 12-metre sloop Musichana to highlight the plight of the 2,000 or so people who were forcibly removed from the Chagos Archipelago between 1968 and 1971 to make way for the military base. Bouquet and Castle said that they were motivated by the Quaker ideal that ‘you should bear witness to a crime, even if you cannot stop it happening’.

Castle, Musichana’s skipper, was given a six-month suspended prison sentence and fined £3,000 ($6,000). However, his refusal to pay meant that the Musichana was confiscated and the two men deported to Singapore.

Since 2000, the Chagos Islanders, who live in exile in Mauritius and the Seychelles, have twice won the right of return to their homeland – once in the British High Court and again, last year, in the Court of Appeal. Despite these victories the British Government still refuses to allow them to go home, and so has decided to appeal to the House of Lords. The case will begin on 30 June.

*Sean Carey*

New Internationalist issue 411 magazine cover This article is from the May 2008 issue of New Internationalist.
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