Thursday, May 26, 2005

4 city activists convicted in D.C. protest
By Mark Melady

Four Worcester activists were convicted in a Washington, D.C., court of unlawful assembly yesterday for blocking the entrance to the Sudanese Embassy in a protest of what the Bush administration once called genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy of the Catholic Worker, who served as lead counsel as well as defendant, said that despite the convictions the defense was ablw to put on witnesses who testified to the extent of the killings, estimated by one Darfur analyst at 400,000, and to raise the moral issues of civil disobedience.

“The judge was very complimentary about our defense, but I would have preferred acquittal,” said Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy, who was given probation and a suspended sentence along with veteran city protestors Ken Hannaford-Ricardi and Tom Lewis. A fourth city resident, Harry Duchesne, was given a two-day sentence based on time served,

The men and three others who participated in the protest, all members of the Catholic Worker group, declined bail and were jailed for two days after their Feb. 2 protest.

The group had requested a meeting with Sudanese Embassy officials to press their case against what they believe is the Khartoum government’s support of militias that have destroyed entire villages in Darfur, forcing many hundreds of thousands to become refugees.

When embassy officials refused to meet, the seven knelt in prayer at the entrance and were arrested.

Colin L. Powell, then secretary of state, called the killings in Darfur genocide after a visit to the region, but Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said his successor, Condoleeza Rice, has yet to use the term and the Bush administration has been more moderate in its assessments of the violence in Darfur.

One witness put on by the defense, Eric Reeves, a Smith college professor who has spent the last three years in the Sudan [sic], said as many as 500 Darfur residents per day are dying in the conflict.

Another witness, Mwiza Munthali, director of information at TransAfrica, a group that organized demonstrations against apartheid at the South African embassy in the 1960s [sic], testified that Nelson Mandela credited those demonstrations with being instrumental with bringing down the racist government.

Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy also put into evidence photographs he took of refugee camps while on a visit to Darfur last year with another defendant, Brenna Cussen.

Judge Rufus King III was not swayed, however, and found all seven guilty.

After the trial, the group marched 11 blocks to the White House to join a Darfur vigil.

“I encouraged civil disobedience at the Sudanese Embassy,” Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said.

The group is returning to Worcester today.

“We may appeal the verdicts,” Mr. Schaeffer-Duffy said. “We have some soul-searching to do. If we get arrested again in Washington it’s right off to jail without even a hearing.”

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