British rights activists arrested near Diego Garcia


London : Two British human rights campaigners have been arrested at sea off Diego Garcia – the Indian Ocean island that the British have leased to the US for controversial military activity.

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Peter Bouquet and Jon Castle were arrested after protesting the military use of the island and the expulsion of its entire population by Britain in 1971, the Guardian newspaper reported Wednesday.

The two men are former captains of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior ship and veterans of environmental and human rights direct actions around the world, the paper said. They currently belong to a group called the People’s Navy which campaigns for the restoration of the island – also known as Chagos – to its original inhabitants, many of whom were forcibly settled in Mauritius.

The Chagossians have carried on a decades-long campaign to be allowed to return to their homeland, which is now a US air base. Their case against the British government is currently pending in British courts.

In a statement before their arrest, Bouquet and Castle said they were also protesting against the recent use of Diego Garcia by the US for the transportation of prisoners being “rendered… without regard to even the most basic and accepted concepts of justice”.

Diego Garcia, used by the US in the two wars against Iraq and the more recent war on terror, has become the subject of a fierce controversy in Britain over so-called ‘torture flights’.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted last month that two American aircraft had used the island to transport terror prisoners – each had one prisoner on board who did not leave the plane.

British MPs and human rights groups last week demanded an independent inquiry into the use of Diego Garcia by the US Central Intelligence Agency for transporting alleged terrorists to prisons such as Guantanamo Bay where they may be tortured.

The Guardian said British Foreign Office Minister Lord Mark Malloch Brown has spoken to Manfred Novak, the UN’s special investigator on torture, about the alleged use of Diego Garcia as a detention centre for holding US suspects.