16 Mar 2012

George Clooney arrested in Washington protest

Police in Washington arrest actor George Clooney during a protest outside the Sudanese embassy against the country’s blockade of aid to southern regions.

Mr Clooney, his father Nick and other activists ignored three police warnings to leave the embassy grounds and were led away to a secret service van in handcuffs, a Reuters journalist covering the demonstration said.

Mr Clooney was protesting against Sudan’s efforts to prevent food deliveries from reaching the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile areas, a volatile border region where its army is fighting rebels aligned with South Sudan.

He had been widely expected to provoke police into arresting him.

The protests against the blockade follows bombings in 2011 of the Nuba Mountains, in South Sudan, at the time of the country’s secession from its northern neighbour.

After South Sudan’s independence in June last year, Nuba soldiers were meant to join the northern army, but some rebelled, seizing government weapons and ammunition and saying that they wanted to rule themselves.

Air strikes

This led to fighting between the northern military and southern-aligned armed groups in Southern Kordofan in June 2011 and escalated to include artillery and air strikes.

Video footage obtained by Channel 4 News in July 2011 showed the victims of what the critics of the Sudanese government described as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against members of the country’s Nuba minority.

The arrest of Mr Clooney follows a Senate hearing on Thursday where he told the US government to get tough on Sudan president Omar al-Bashir and two other Sudanese officials indicted by the International Criminal Court as part of an investigation into atrocities in Darfur from August 2003 to March 2004.

In his evidence to the US Senate foreign relations committee, Mr Clooney described what he had witnessed on a visit to Nuba, saying: “We witnessed hundreds of people running to the hills to hide in caves for safety and that happens every day.

“These people are not the ‘cave people of Nuba’. They actually live on farms and they have the oldest society in the world and yet now they are forced to hide in caves.

‘Murder and fear’

“It is a campaign of murder and fear and displacement and starvation. And that is also a fact.”

He went on to call on the Obama administration to work with China, which is investing heavily in Sudan’s oil infrastructure, to solve these cross-border issues.

“The exact same people who did this in Darfur are the people that are doing this again,” warned Mr Clooney. “And these signs… are ominously similar.”

Clooney filmed the hardship in Sudan for a video that was posted online shortly before his testimony.

In December 2010, the Academy award-winning actor unveiled the Satellite Sentinel Project – a UN backed programme that he co-founded which hires private satellites to monitor troop movements in Sudan.

His arrest comes in the same week that he attended a White House state dinner hosted by President Obama for Prime Minister David Cameron on his visit to Washington.